Colin Munro CMG
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Negotiating with Russians

Colin Munro CMG was UK Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (2003-07), Deputy High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2001) and Ambassador to Croatia (1997-2000).  He was Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy to the GDR in East Berlin from 1987-90.   He is now based in Vienna, consulting on European political and security issues, and on Brexit, as Chairman of UK Citizens in Austria.


Leaders such as Putin rely on men of power from the military, security and spy agencies.  Foreign Ministers such as Gromyko (1957-85) and Lavrov (2004-) carry out their instructions. Shevardnadze (1985-90) and Kozyrev (1990-96) were exceptions.  They supported Gorbachev and Yeltsin in their attempt to convert first the Soviet Union, then Russia into a constructive international partner.

In December 1992, Foreign Minister Kozyrev, made a speech:

“Great Russia is back, determined to protect its own western flank, defending Slavic brethren and Russian minorities from a NATO wave that threatens to wash through the former Warsaw Pact or even Ukraine.  The former Warsaw Pact is a post imperial space.  Russia is capable of looking after itself and its friends using all available means, including military means.  Russia will require all former Soviet republics to join immediately a new federation or confederation.”

Later Kozyrev returned to the rostrum. Neither he nor Yeltsin would ever act according to what he had said.  His earlier words were a warning, as to what might happen if western powers did not take Russia seriously as a great power.  Kozyrev, who now lives in the US, regards Putin as “a lunatic detached from reality.”

In June 2001 Presidents Bush and Putin gave a joint press conference in Slovenia.  Bush had looked into Putin’s eyes. He was “straightforward and trustworthy.”  Bush had “got a sense of his soul.”  I was Deputy High Representative in Bosnia at the time.  Jiri Dienstbier, Czech dissident and Foreign Minister after the Velvet Revolution, by now UN Human Rights Rapporteur for Former Yugoslavia, was asked if he agreed with Bush.  Dienstbier replied that he too had looked into Putin’s eyes.  “And what did I see, I saw KGB.”

In May 1979 I was appointed Private Secretary to Peter Blaker, Minister of State for East/West relations at the FCO.  One of his first visitors was Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Zemskov.  I recall only a visit, at his request, to the musical version of Chicago, a satire on corruption.  Bilateral meetings stopped after the invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, but Blaker got authentic accounts of Soviet policy during bleak visits to Prague and East Berlin in the autumn of 1980.  

As we prepared for the Helsinki Final Act (HFA) implementation review meeting (November 1980) in Madrid, a Soviet invasion of Poland to suppress Solidarity seemed likely.  Preparation by officials was to finish by midnight on 10 November.  Russian diplomats were refusing to finish, to prevent Ministers reviewing Soviet implementation of the HFA’s human rights provisions.  A Hungarian was in the chair at midnight.  A Dutch delegate asked: what is the time?  The panic-stricken Hungarian left the rostrum to consult members of the Soviet delegation who had an answer.  The Netherlands had asked an impermissible political question.  The clock was stopped however.  Ministers were allowed to speak, and four days later the Soviet Union did accept the procedures that had been agreed in 1975.  

I arrived in East Berlin in June 1987, as Deputy Head of Mission, in time for President Reagan’s famous speech in West Berlin in front of the Reichstag: “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this Wall.”  My Soviet opposite number was not impressed.  But by 1989 he was in favour of perestroika.  My most informative contact represented the Institute of the Economy of the world Socialist System, which was warning Gorbachev that the socialist system had reached a dead end and unification of Germany was possible, points confirmed to me by the head of the Institute, in Moscow in May 1989.  By the time the Wall fell (9 November) the Soviet embassy was not receiving instructions, except that while Gorbachev was in charge, there would be no violence, even in the event of reunification.

From 1993-97 I was responsible for the OSCE, the Council of Europe (COE), and promoting respect for minorities in countries aspiring to join the EU.  In December 1994, at a summit in Budapest, Yeltsin joined Clinton and Major in reaffirming their commitment to respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  I experienced reasonable cooperation with Russian colleagues including Vladimir Chizhov (later Russian Ambassador to the EU) in organising the first post War presidential elections in Bosnia in accordance with the Dayton Peace Agreement (1995).

In 1996 Russia joined the Council of Europe (COE).  EU and NATO Ambassadors in Moscow had pressed for this.  Membership would tie Russia into the European Convention on Human Rights.  I had my doubts in view of the first war (December 1994- August 1996) in Chechnya.   Russia has now withdrawn from the COE to pre-empt expulsion.

Two issues stood out.  In 1994 Russia proposed that the CSCE should be transformed into an international organisation with its own charter and a security council with three members - Russia, the US and the EU!  The Warsaw Pact was history.  So, there was no need for NATO, and certainly not for enlargement.  Russia was not reconciled to independent Baltic states with large Russian minorities.  Good for the Baltics meant bad for Russia.

From 2003-07 I was Ambassador to the OSCE.  Putin had already reneged on Yeltsin’s commitment in 1999 to withdraw Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova by the end of 2002.  Just before the annual meeting of foreign ministers in December 2003, OSCE election observers in Georgia reported fraud in the election of Shevardnadze as President.  Supporters of his opponent (Saakashvili) stormed parliament bearing red roses.  The EU financed the rerun which elected Saakashvili.  In 2004 the election in Ukraine was rigged in favour of Yanukovich.  Again, OSCE observers documented fraud.  Orange clad protesters took to the streets.  Yushchenko won the fraud free rerun.  Putin was now determined to close down independent election observation, ably led by an Austrian diplomat, Christian Strohal, in his sphere of influence.  The Russian delegation in Vienna became ever more obstructive.  At the Munich security conference in February 2007, Putin denounced western organisations in general.  The OSCE was a “vulgar organisation”.  London’s interest in the OSCE revived in my final months in HM Diplomatic Service.


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