Riddle, Mystery, and Enigma

by David Owen

Britain’s relationship with Russia is surprisingly under-explored. When the two formed a pragmatic alliance and fought together at Navarino in 1827, it was overwhelmingly the work of the British prime minister, George Canning. His death brought about a volte-face that would see the countries fighting on opposite sides in the Crimean War and jostling for power during the Great Game.

It was not until the 1917 revolution that another statesman had a defining impact on relations between Britain and Russia: Winston Churchill opposed Bolshevism, yet he never stopped advocating diplomatic and military engagement with Russia. In the Second World War, he recognised earlier than most the necessity of allying with the Soviets against the menace of Nazi Germany – as well as the post-war threat to freedom posed by the Soviets themselves.

Bringing us into the twenty-first century, Owen chronicles how both countries have responded to their geopolitical decline. Drawing on both imperial and Soviet history, he explains the unique nature of Putin’s autocracy and addresses Britain’s return to ‘blue water’ diplomacy.

With Owen’s characteristic insight and expertise, Riddle, Mystery, and Enigma depicts a relationship governed by principle as often as by suspicion, expediency, and outright necessity.

DAVID OWEN served as Foreign Secretary under James Callaghan from 1977 until 1979, and later co-founded and went on to lead the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He is the author of books including The Hidden Perspective (2014) and Cabinet’s Finest Hour (2016).

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