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Andrew Dempster @admpstr
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With all the focus on Russia, I’ll tell my favourite Russia story from my time as an adviser to the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs. A short thread.
Stephen Smith was the Foreign Minister. He was as straight up and down as they come. And we were in Moscow on his first, and possibly only, visit to Russia.
Note this was in 2010, a few years before Russia shot down MH17 over Ukraine with the loss of 38 Australian lives.
Australian foreign ministers travel pretty light, so on the trip it was just me and one other adviser from Smith’s office, the Australian ambassador to Russia and a couple of other DFAT staff.
During the visit, Smith was booked to give an English-language lecture at a Moscow university. I can’t remember the name of the place but it had a specialisation in international relations/ foreign affairs.
A talk from the Australian foreign minister here was never going to get top billing, but someone (probably the Russian MFA) had assembled a crowd of 30 or 40 graduate students to politely listen.
So Smith gives this 30 minute lecture, departing from prepared remakes and speaking off the cuff as he often did, talking about the Australian world view of international relations.
As was typical of Smith’s speeches, this one followed a familiar trajectory talking about Australia’s alliance with the USA, our engagement with Asia and our respect for the United Nations. These were the so-called “three pillars” of Australian foreign policy under PM Kevin Rudd.
He also touched on a few issues pertinent to the Australia-Russia relationship: trade, education, energy and some of our countries’ shared history from the second World War.
It was a good speech I thought, especially for someone who had just stepped off 30 hours of connecting flights to get there, and informative about the Australian world view for anyone who had not been following Australian foreign policy that closely, i.e. this entire room.
The audience listened politely throughout the speech and at the end there was a brief smattering of applause. The moderator, a local university academic, then stepped up to the mic to invite questions.
I’ll never forget the first question. And this really is the whole point of this story.
One of the Russian students stood up and said in thick, Russian-accented English:

“Mister Smith. Thank you for your excellent speech. Now tell us: WHO ARE YOUR ENEMIES?”
Now my job as a Ministerial adviser was to anticipate any questions and and prepare Smith for them. And this one I did not see coming so I guess I failed in my job. But in hindsight it says a lot about the Russian world view.
Smith gave a straight answer. He basically said that Australia didn’t really have any, and that international relations could be win-win if nations worked together to solve problems. But you could see on their faces that this audience just wasn’t buying any of it.
The Russian view of international affairs is very binary. It’s win-lose. It’s 1-0. You have to triumph over your adversaries. You have to split up their alliances. You have to divide their societies and turn their people against each other.
This is just the way that Russia sees the world, neatly summed up in that four-word question: who are your enemies?
For Trump to behave the way he has, for him to trust Putin’s denials of meddling, to cosy up to the Russian dictator as if he has the America’s interests in mind, is nothing short of insane.
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