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James Dauris

Charge d'Affaires, Panama

19th March 2024 Panama

Russia – 25 years of broken hopes and smashed dreams

First printed in the physical edition of La Prensa on 27th of  February 2024.

Twenty-five years ago I had the good fortune to be living in Russia. My wife and I spent almost four years in Moscow. We felt so lucky to be able to travel all around that most extraordinary country. In many ways, Russia is all that you imagine it to be: snow-capped mountains, vast expanses of forest and huge rivers, wonderful
churches and fortresses, remarkable art and beautiful ballet. And, once you get to know them, big-hearted, generous people.

I lived in Russia between 1998 and 2002. I saw the end of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency and the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s rule. It was an exciting time to be in Moscow, a time of great longing for great change. I met hundreds of young people, my age at the time, brimming with enthusiasm and hope. Hope that the country they were so proud of was now set on a new course. A course that would bring them and the Russian people freedoms and opportunities neither they, nor their parents, nor their grandparents before them, had ever been allowed to enjoy. Their passionate wish was that their leaders, whoever they turned out to be, would take the opportunity the end of Communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union gave them to adopt more sociable, responsible relations with the world. Their longing was infectious.

Today, a quarter of a century later, we are seeing the hopes and dreams of all those young Russian I talked with smashed on the rocks of one man’s obsessive totalitarian control. They have had to watch, powerless, as Vladimir Putin has dragged their country back from the freedoms they were longing for into the darkness of oppression and the fear of the unaccountable state we are seeing today.

I met opposition leader Boris Nemtsov several times. A determined critic of Vladimir Putin, he was shot dead in central Moscow in 2015, aged 55. I met Anna Politkovskaya too. A principled and brave Russian journalist, writer and human rights activist, Anna was shot dead in Moscow in 2006, aged 48. Alexander Litvinenko, another Putin critic, died the most agonising of deaths from radiation poisoning in 2006, aged 43. And just two weeks ago, Alexei Navalny, the admired opposition leader and critic of Putin, died, far from his family, in a miserable prison camp in frozen Siberia, aged 47. The list of those who have been murdered for standing up to Vladimir Putin is, of course, a much, much longer one.

Last Saturday, 24 February, marked the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – an unprovoked, premeditated and barbaric attack against a sovereign, democratic state. Conducted on Putin’s orders, Russia’s attack has caused death and destruction on a level not seen in Europe since World War Two.

To many people here in Panama, what is happening in Ukraine will seem very far away. “It’s not our problem”, some will be tempted to argue. But it is. However far away we are, none of us can insulate ourselves from Putin’s challenge to the laws, the rules, the principles that all of our nations have so carefully constructed to help keep us and our countries safe, to help us to prosper. Indeed, more than just challenging these rules and principles, Putin would appear to be intent on destroying many of them.

Our response needs to be one of strength, resilience and unity. We need to build up our defences, stay close to our strongest friends and partners, and reach out to new allies. Now is the time for us all – in Panama, around Latin America, around the world – to double down on our support for Ukraine, so that it not only wins the war, but emerges from it as a strong, sovereign, and free country. By doing so, we ensure that, at least in Ukraine, Putin’s efforts to undermine global stability are stopped in their tracks. If we allow him, his cronies and their war machine to lay waste to global principles, the risks to the world order and to all of us are grave.

If, like me, you heard Alexei Navalny’s wife, Yulia, speaking in Germany the week before last, minutes after she learned of her husband’s death, I’m sure that you too will have been in awe at her composure, her courage and her determination to champion the fight Alexei died for. And you will have noted the passion with which she spoke about her love for Russia and the Russian people.

Most of those people I knew 25 years ago will probably be too frightened now to talk about the dreams and the hopes they talked to me about back then. But I share what I know will be their unspoken hope today: that the Russian people will, before too
long, find their magnificent country freed from the grip of the tyrant who claims to speak in their name, and be able to hold Putin and his henchmen to account.

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About James Dauris

James Dauris is the British Chargé d'Affaires in Panama, an appointment he took up in February 2024. James joined the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office in 1995 and served as…

James Dauris is the British Chargé d'Affaires in Panama, an appointment he took up in February 2024.

James joined the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office in 1995 and served as Head of the Latin American Department (2019 to 2023). Before this he was British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and to Maldives (2015 to 2019), Ambassador to Peru (2010 to 2014), and has also worked as Deputy Head of Mission in Colombia (2005 to 2009) and in the British Embassy in Moscow (1998 to 2002). He has had various roles at the Foreign Office in London covering European Union, South Asian and maritime policy.

James has a degree in law from the University of Cambridge and worked as a solicitor in the City of London before joining the Foreign Office.