We arrived on the Thursday after a pleasant drive up the A9, stopping off for an excellent lunch at the rather splendid Muchrack hotel in Dulnain.
Arriving in Ullapool mid afternoon, just in time to check into the hotel and prepare ourselves for the opening reception at the Ceilidh Place. This is such a great festival and one organised by a terrific committee who never fail to put on a marvellous, eclectic and enticing range of authors. They also provide an exceptional home baking tent.
After mingling with the authors and committee it was off for one of Ullapool’s famous scallop suppers and a relatively early night.
Friday morning was quite a blustery one as we headed in to the village hall to hear Angus Roxburgh talking about his memoir, Moscow Calling – Memoirs of A Foreign Correspondent, chaired by Ruth Wishart.
Hugely knowledgeable, of course and also entertaining, Angus talked us through his time in Russia from working as a translator for roubles and thus living like an ordinary Russian through his time as a Foreign Correspondent for the BBC reporting on Gorbachev, Yeltsin and into actually working as a media consultant for Putin’s Government from 2006 – 2009.
Roxburgh gained a fascinating insight into Putin during his time with him. Putin was not a fan of Hillary Clinton, believing that she had interfered in Russia’s election in 2011.
In December 2011, Vladimir Putin came close to losing his hold on power. His decision that year to run for a third term as Russia’s President had inspired a massive protest movement against him. Demonstrations calling for him to resign were attracting hundreds of thousands of people across the country. The Russian state media had begun to warn of a revolution in the making.
Putin chose to lay the blame on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“She set the tone for certain actors inside the country; she gave the signal,” Putin said. This is of course was led to suggestions that Russia may have intervened in the last U.S. Presidential election – tit for tat perhaps?
It is also believed that a high powered team of Americans were brought over to Russia during Yeltsin’s election to help swing the vote to him. Their existence was not widely known – they reported to Yeltsin’s daughter and were forbidden ever to leave their hotel in case they were discovered.
Roxburgh describes Putin as ‘complicated’. He believes the West is undermining Russia. On the one hand he is urbane, courteous, very clued up and knowledgeable.
On the other he is also boorish, openly making jokes about rape and homosexuality.
In his first year of office, Putin tried hard to be friendly and offered assistance after 9/11 in 2011. But he expected something in return and didn’t get it from us. Putin created the conditions within the FSB that allowed for enemies of state anywhere in the world to be dealt with. Hence the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko and the Skripals, amongst others.
But, says Roxburgh, Putin makes Russia feel better about itself. After Yeltsin, people’s faith was undermined undermined and they sought a new identity for Russia. Putin gives them that.
Roxburgh asked Putins top PR man why he had not declared a renunciation of communism. The answer: it is not yet the time! You can’t tell people they have wasted their whole lives on a system that does not work.
Angus talked about Russia’s new rearmament phase. Putin wants the world to recognise Russia as a force and also that it has legitimate security interests now being isolated as a result of Nato expansion. But his crackdown on human rights does not warm Europe to Russia.
Asked about Syria, he said that Putin’s main motivating factor is to prevent a street level uprising, the thing he is most afraid of. It’s noT so much support for Assadas the fact that he Hates governments being overthrown by crowds in street.
He also pointed out that it hasn’t done any harm to Russia’s arms sales, displaying their hardware so openly. Russia is a major player in Middle East and their arms sales are booming.
More from Ullapool later. Time for some spicy fish soup and langoustines from the Crab Shack.