In a major foreign policy speech at the Lord Mayor's Banquet at London's Guildhall on Nov.13, British Prime Minister Theresa May launched an unprecedented attack against Russia, calling it a “threat to international security”. In a lengthy charge-sheet of actions, she accused Moscow of provoking “dangerous and unpredictable” conflicts, “meddling in elections,” hacking the Danish Ministry of Defence and the Bundestag, undermining free societies, carrying out “cyber espionage and disruption”, repeatedly violating the national airspace of several European countries and other wrongdoings. "We know what you are doing and you will not succeed. Because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us," the PM exclaimed pathetically.
The timing of the speech may not be coincidental. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is making his first trip to Russia since taking office in December to implement his "beware but engage" policy. This is the first FM visit in five years. In April, the minister cancelled a visit to Russia in protest of its support for the Syrian government of President Assad. Moscow continues to back the Syrian government but the visit is scheduled to take place. The UK appears to combine the attempts to spearhead the Western anti-Russia campaign with the policy of reviving a dialogue.
This is also the time British media has launched an anti-Russia campaign, accusing it of many evil things without any evidence to substantiate the claim as it is usually done in the West. Right after the PM’s fiery speech, the British National Cyber Security Centre, which is a branch of GCHQ charged with oversight of Britain’s cybersecurity, said that Russian hackers have attacked British media, telecoms and energy companies over the past year. So, blaming Russia for everything is a country-wide campaign, not an isolated attack.
Everything has its own purpose. Theresa May's remarks should be seen in the context of Brexit. The UK is looking for ways to remain a major force and influence after it leaves the EU. It’s important to demonstrate that London is still an important international player and will not be diminished outside of the bloc. In a nutshell, that’s how the prime minister’s words about the UK having to act to protect the interests of the UK, Europe and rest of the world if “Russia continues on its current path” should be construed. She expressly stressed that it was important to have a "united European stance" against "Russian aggression". So, the UK strives to become the leader of the Western anti-Russia campaign.
She said that Russia undermines the rules-based order that must be defended. But it’s important to make precise what rules she means. After all, she leads a country, which openly interferes into internal affairs of other states, especially its former colonies, takes part in interventions abroad without UN approval, such as the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, and launches propaganda campaigns against foreign governments, such as the activities of BBC Russian service, for instance.
A period of just 12 months may make a big difference. Last November, Theresa May was awarded her Politician of the Year at the Spectator Awards. Today, the position of the current British cabinet is really weak. Racked by crisis after crisis, the government’s ability to survive is questioned. The times are rough and the Prime Minister badly needs an external threat to divert voters’ attention. Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel resigned on November 8, amid the scandal over her unauthorized meetings made with Israeli figures – a breach of the ministerial code. She is the second cabinet-level minister to leave the government this month. On November 1, Michael Fallon resigned as defense secretary following sexual harassment allegations.
And more trouble is on the way. The sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed Westminster is likely to claim more ministerial victims. Damien Green, another cabinet minister who serves as May’s de-facto deputy, is among those being investigated in Westminster’s sexual-harassment scandal over allegations of inappropriate behavior that, if proven true, could make him the third minister to step down. With the UK government losing ministers this month at the rate of one a week, and with the ruling Conservative party so divided, Theresa May’s government may not last long.
On November 12, 40 Conservative members of Parliament agreed that they have zero confidence in May and will sign a letter saying that. Under Conservative Party rules, only eight more signatures are needed to trigger a leadership election.
According to the Times of London, “European leaders are preparing for the fall of Theresa May before the new year. There is great difficulty of the leadership in Great Britain, which is more and more fragile. Britain is very weak and the weakness of Theresa May makes [Brexit] negotiations very difficult.”
The Treasury confirms that the state of the public finances is even worse than expected. The pound’s fall against major currencies on Nov.13 reflects a rising lack of confidence in the UK government’s ability to advance the Brexit talks in a manner beneficial to the British economy. The Brexit talks may hit impasse.
The PM announced that the next election would officially take place on March 29, 2019. As recent polls show, if another general election was held today, it would result in a Labor Party victory. The situation is desperate. That’s when external threats come in handy helping to divert attention from internal problems. It may work for some time but it won’t help in the long run.