Russia and Europe: What Next?

John%20Pilkington%20%20Balkan%20tripRussia and Europe: What Next?

Sunday 22nd January 2017, 3 pm


John Pilkington has been called “one of Britain’s greatest tellers of travellers’ tales”.
In 1983, after journeys in Africa and Latin America, he completed a 500-mile solo crossing of the western Nepal Himalaya, and told the story in his first book Into Thin Air. His interest in Asia grew further with the opening in 1986 of the border between Pakistan and China, making it possible – for the first time in forty years – to retrace virtually the whole of the Silk Road. John was one of the first modern travellers to do so, and he wrote about the journey in An Adventure on the Old Silk Road. This was followed in 1991 by An Englishman in Patagonia; recounting eight months spent exploring the southern most tip of South America.
In 2000 he became one of only four people in modern times to walk the 1,600-mile Royal Road of the Incas in the Andes of Ecuador and Peru. In 2003 he explored the Mekong River and, with two Tibetans, reached and mapped its source at over 17,000 feet. In 2006 he turned his attention to the Sahara Desert, and joined a camel caravan carrying salt for 450 miles from the mines of Taoudenni to Timbuktu.

Passions are running high in Ukraine and the breakaway states of the Caucasus. Vladimir Putin’s adventures in Ukraine took the West rather by surprise. But in some ways I think they followed a pattern that goes back more than a century to the legendary ‘Great Game’ between Russia and Britain in Victorian times.

Since the Soviet Union’s break-up, Transnistria,Abkhazia and South Ossetia have become Russia’s ‘forgotten’ satellite states – unrecognised and unheard of by most outsiders. Now Donetsk and Luhansk have joined the list, and Russia has full control of Crimea.

I’ve always loved Eastern Europe,and 2015 seemed the perfect time to get to know it better and discover the stories behind the news headlines. I also visited two places that have hosted the most horrible events in the region’s history – Auschwitz and Chernobyl. The trip was both upsetting and at the same time incredibly heartwarming.

After five months of talking to people on both sides, I’m none the wiser about what Mr Putin is planning. But I did get a surprising insight into the Russian and Ukrainian people, their sadness about past and present conflicts, and the practical steps some of them are taking towards a calmer future.

As always I took lots of photographs, and I’ve put the best of them into a new presentation. The slide/sound show Russia and Europe: What Next? generally lasts an hour.

You can read more about this and other talks and books at

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