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Forty years of dealing with Russia mean that Stephen Dalziel’s understanding of the country and its people is matched by few. Stephen has worked with Russia as a military analyst; political commentator; and businessman. He speaks Russian fluently and is equally happy addressing an audience in Russian as in English.
Stephen became interested in all things Russian while still at school, being captivated at an early age by David Lean’s film of Dr Zhivago, falling for Russia long before he was old enough to fall for Julie Christie. He started learning the Russian language when he was 13 years old, and first visited the Soviet Union on a post-O-level trip in 1974.
After a year on the interpreter’s course at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, studying Russian and Spanish, Stephen went to the University of Leeds where he read Russian Studies. In the days before university to university exchanges, Stephen gained one of the coveted British Council Scholarships to study for a year in the USSR, at Kiev State University. He was there when one of the defining moments of the Cold War occurred: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. That experience of living in the Soviet Union gives Stephen an excellent yardstick against which he can measure what is happening in Russian society now.
For good measure, while studying for his degree Stephen also spent a month at Moscow State University and three months on an exchange programme at Sofia University, Bulgaria, which he describes as, “a curious experience; the Bulgarians understood everything we said in Russian, but replied in their native tongue, which we couldn’t always follow”. He admits that one of the highlights of the stay in Bulgaria was meeting the English and Irish football teams, who both played European Nations Championship qualifying games there, ending up playing darts with one of his Arsenal heroes, Frank Stapleton.
After graduating in 1981, Stephen spent a year on a TA attachment in the Army, serving as a 2nd Lt in the XV.XIX The King’s Royal Hussars in Paderborn, Germany. The Regiment’s role was as armoured reconnaissance in any future conflict, and Stephen spent time on patrols of the Inner German Border (between East and West Germany); at the start of the Berlin Corridor at Helmstedt; and in both parts of divided Berlin itself.
One reason for Stephen spending time in the Army was to learn about the people he would be working with in his next incarnation. Returning from Germany, he joined the Soviet Studies Research Centre at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Using unclassified primary Soviet sources, the Centre worked closely with the Armed Services to give an accurate picture of the situation in the Soviet Armed Forces by way of lectures and research papers. Stephen continued to travel to the USSR, as well as making frequent visits to Berlin – West and East.
In 1988, with Mikhail Gorbachev as Soviet leader, Stephen decided that the political scene had become more interesting than the military one, and he moved to the BBC World Service as Russian Affairs Analyst. Over the next 16 years as a correspondent and broadcaster he followed the ebb and flow of Gorbachev’s reform programme and the fall of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe; and reported on and from the USSR and post-Soviet Russia on the collapse of the Soviet Union, the chaos of the post-Soviet years and the rise of Vladimir Putin. In making radio series and programmes as well as daily reports, Stephen interviewed many Soviet and Russian dignitaries, including Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin and Eduard Shevardnadze.
Since leaving the BBC in 2004, Stephen spent five years as Executive Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, regularly speaking at events, chairing conferences and negotiating with senior Russian and British business figures, diplomats and the odd politician.
Stephen has had numerous articles published, as well as contributing chapters to books. His first book, The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire, was published in 1993. He is currently writing his memoirs and a series of short stories, “but life keeps getting in the way of finishing them”. He is regularly interviewed for radio and TV.
The current Ukraine Crisis
Is Vladimir Putin Re-Creating the USSR?
Is Russia a Place to do Business?
How Chilly was the Cold War?
Reporting the Collapse of the USSR
The Changing Face of Russia, 1974-2014
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