The boastfulness of Britain’s media about having a citizen launched into space last month would be quite funny if it wasn’t so pathetically nationalistic. Unfortunately, the British ‘stiff upper lip’ of understatement and dignity has vanished, and in this instance of overexcited media vulgarity there were also spiteful gibes at Russia. The Daily Telegraph newspaper, once a publication of distinction but now a sad shadow of its former self, carried the headline that the British astronaut was preparing «for blast off to space amid fears over creaking 50 year-old Russian rocket capsule».
This was a bizarre statement, because even the bonehead who wrote it must be able to understand that in no circumstances would an astronaut be committed to flight in a «creaking» capsule.
Below the preposterous headline the paper observed that «Since the US scrapped the space shuttle programme in 2011, all astronauts are forced to hitch a lift with the Russians on the Soyuz spacecraft – a remnant of Cold War technology which has remained virtually unchanged since 1967... in the last 12 months the Russian space agency Roscosmos has been rocked by a series of scandals and rocket failures», eliciting a Telegraph reader’s comment that «those Russian rockets have been ‘creaking into space’ quite reliably now for the last fifty years».
Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron praised the astronaut for «making history» – perhaps unaware that he was the 216th person to arrive there and that the first person in space was the Russian Yuri Gagarin, on 12 April 1961 (following the Russian space-dog, Laika, as noted by a reader of the Daily Telegraph who wrote: «Don’t know what the fuss is about. A British astronaut? Even a dog got into space before us.»). Mr Cameron probably doesn’t know that Salyut 1, the first space station, was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome ten years later, but he is not given to acknowledging Russian achievements: he prefers to insult President Putin, as he did during the G-20 summit in Australia in 2014.
During the G-20 gathering there were two Russian warships and two support vessels in international waters near Australia, and Mr Cameron considered it appropriate to declare laughingly that «I didn’t feel it necessary to bring a warship myself to keep myself safe at this G20, and I’m sure that Putin won’t be in any danger.» (Note the contemptuous omission of a prefix to President Putin’s name.)
As I wrote at the time, «What is indeed hilarious is the fact that Mr Cameron’s Britain has itself so few ships. He and his predecessors have all but destroyed the Royal Navy, which has no aircraft carriers, no combat aircraft, and only a few other warships – ten submarines, six destroyers and a dozen frigates ... It would have been impossible for Mr Cameron «to bring a warship» because Britain hasn’t got one to send».
Mr Cameron is not alone in sneering at the leader of an important country whose cooperation it would be wise to enlist, because his cross-Atlantic colleague, President Obama, has maintained the insulting attitude he first displayed two years ago.
Last September an editorial in the New York Times noted that President Obama considered President Putin to be «a thug» – quoting Mr Obama’s «advisers» who had obviously made it clear to the newspaper that the word was authorised by their employer. If Mr Obama had not used such an insulting term, with the intention of it being published in an influential news outlet, then the White House would have insisted on an apology and withdrawal of such an offensive description. But no such demand was made. There is no doubt that Mr Obama intended to convey an abusive message, and in this he succeeded.
Obama’s intensity of dislike – even hatred – of Russia and its President was demonstrated during the Australian G-20 summit when he declared that the United States was «leading in opposing Russia’s aggression, which is a threat to the world – which we saw in the appalling shoot down of [Malaysian Airlines flight] MH17».
The President of the United States of America asserted that Russia shot down a civilian aircraft.
He has never withdrawn that allegation.
No doubt to the vexation of President Obama and the anti-Russia legions, the inquiry into the MH-17 disaster, in spite of being manipulated to attempt to reach a finding critical of Russia, has not succeeded in finding the slightest shred of evidence that Russia was responsible for the atrocity. Efforts to that end continue, of course; but Obama’s flat statement concerning Russia’s culpability, and his bizarre assertion that because of the «shoot down» it had been decided by Washington that Russia is «a threat to the world», were made on the basis of emotional pre-judgement, which is not what one expects from the President of a country he so proudly declares to be «the one indispensable nation in world affairs.»
President Obama’s personal and publicly-expressed contempt for President Putin goes back further. At a White House press conference on August 9, 2013, his description of Russia’s President was condescending as well as insulting. Mr Obama sneered about Mr Putin that «he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom...»
It is hard to recollect any statement of similar scorn, derision and disrespect made by the president of any other country concerning their international counterparts in recent years.
For the President of America to refer to the President of Russia as «looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom» is vulgar and downright insolent. But President Putin did not lower himself to return the immature rudeness; rather, he has been at pains to make it clear that «I think there is still a way we can work together on the problems we all face». This was a generous comment, but it fell on deaf ears.
In September last year the White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest, made his master’s attitude to Mr Putin crystal clear to the public. As reported:
«At one point during his daily briefing, Mr Earnest noted Mr Putin’s habit of slouching while meeting with counterparts, pointing to a recent photo of him with Israel’s prime minister. ‘President Putin was striking a now-familiar pose of less-than-perfect posture and unbuttoned jacket and, you know, knees spread far apart to convey a particular image,’ he said».
As is obvious to everyone except the White House, Mr Netanyahu was in exactly the same «now-familiar pose» as President Putin. But why let facts interfere with insults?
And what message was President Obama trying to convey by adopting a similar pose?
The message is clear: the political leaders of the United States and Britain are intent on maligning Mr Putin and, by association, the country of which he is President. Their motives are not clear, but what is certain is that their spiteful little jibes will fail to deter President Putin from taking whatever action he considers appropriate for the security of Russia and its place in international affairs.