Russia and Great Britain: enemies or allies?

By: A. Sinizena & A. Sysoev

During the USSR era, foreigners’ attitude towards Russia has distorted. Such terms as the Iron Curtain, the cold war made a significant impact on this.

But the modern Russia exists for slightly more than 20 years which is so negligible from the historical point of view. However, this is enough for our generation, which has never seen the Soviet Union reality and which realizes that the history of relationships between our countries is not limited by that period, to grow up.

The history of relationships between Great Britain and Russia began in the middle of 16th century. England organized two expeditions to the Russian North at the same time. One of them was attacked by storms and ‘terrible whirlwinds’ and it was helped by the local people, and the second one, led by Richard Chancellor, successfully reached Kholmogory. After some research, the members of the expedition travelled to Moscow where the official relations between Russia and Great Britain have started. Ivan IV trusted Great Britain so much, as, according to contemporaries, there was a possibility for him to move to England on a temporary basis in case of revolt in Russia.

Then, there was made the verbal contract that established the Muscovy Trading Company. The company became the fundamental part in the relationships between two countries: since then, the countries have been trading for more than two hundred years.

The reason for the rupture of diplomatic relations was the English Civil War in the 17th century – the execution of Charles I resented Russian Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich so much, as he expelled English merchants from the country altogether.

The relations between countries resumed in the 1660 with the restoration of Charles II of England. Several embassies were sent from both sides. The Emissary of Muscovy Company was the ambassador of Russia simultaneously up until Peter the Great age. The official embassy was established in 1705.

The trading maintained during the Great Northern War in which Great Britain was the mediator between Russia and Sweden. Besides, there were the cultural exchanges between England and Russia, during Peter the Great reign, a lot of British specialist in various field were invited.

One of the most educated persons in Russia of those times was Jacob Bruce, naturalized Scotchman. A statesman, military man, diplomat, engineer, scientist, one of the Peter the Great comrades, the reformer of Russian artillery – that is all about him.

The relations between Russia and Great Britain weakened after the ending of the Great Northern War, but this was caused mostly by economic reasons. The Trading Agreement was reestablished in 1730.

In the time of Catherine I appeared phenomena called ‘Anglomania’ – everything that was connected to the England became very popular. In particular, Russian enlighteness, close friend and associate of the Catherine II, Princess Dashkova, travelled a lot round England.

The confrontation between Russia and Great Britain occurs in the 19th century. The main reason was geopolitics: colonies and India disputes. But quite often behavior of ordinary people differed from the politicians’ one. Despite the diplomatic rupture, Moscow merchants continued trading, and, of course, maintained good relations not only with the other merchants, but also with ordinary people.

During the First World War, Russian Empire and the United Kingdom were military allies. Cultural relationships continued its fast development, the enhanced wave of emigration from revolutionary Russia helped it even more.

The relationships between Russia and Great Britain became more abrasive because of the October Revolution. However, the United Kingdom officially recognized the Soviet Union in 1926.

During the Second World War, the two countries were allies as well. The West supplied USSR with military equipment.

Concerning the relationships between Russia and Great Britain nowadays, we should take into consideration the difference in interaction between ordinary people and political relations. For example, there is so called ‘Russian London’ where the number of emigrants increased several times in the last 20 years.

It can be concluded, that for over half a thousand years history of relationships between Russia and Great Britain, more often, our countries were rather partners than enemies.

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