On October 12 the British media gave prominence to a three-hour foreign affairs debate that had taken place in the House of Commons the previous day. The Commons’ proceedings centred on allegations that Russia had committed war crimes in Syria and there were many insulting and purposefully offensive statements about Russia and its president made by almost all members of parliament who took part. The final speech was made by the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and can be taken as reflecting the policy of the British government towards Russia.
The Guardian newspaper reported that “Making his frontbench debut as foreign secretary in a Commons debate, Johnson said Russia should be investigated for war crimes in Aleppo and took the unusual step of calling for demonstrations by anti-war protesters outside the Russian embassy in London.” “I would certainly like to see demonstrations outside the Russian embassy,” he said. “Where is the Stop the War coalition?”
Come again? We have reached a stage in international affairs in which Her Britannic Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Right Honourable Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, can stand in Parliament and declare to its members and to his country and the world that mobs should swarm around a building in central London that houses a diplomatic mission whose members are officially accredited to the United Kingdom.
Article 22 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations states, inter alia, that “The premises of [a diplomatic] mission shall be inviolable . . . The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.”
But there has been serious impairment to the dignity of the United Kingdom by the buffoonish pronouncements of a most senior member of its government. Certainly, Johnson is one of these exceptionally intelligent people who is, in the final analysis, a fool, and it is barely credible that the Prime Minister, Theresa May, the balanced and sensible leader of the Conservative Party, could continue to endorse the absurd clowning of her foreign secretary.
Nevertheless, he remains in that appointment, and therefore it must be presumed that the British government approves of the use of mob demonstrations to illustrate its censorious position as regards Russia — and, by definition of that endorsement, all nations it considers to have in some manner offended against British policies. Johnson made it clear that he wished to poison relations between London and Moscow, and although the Russian foreign ministry reacted with dignity and amusement rather than anger to his bizarre exhortation, there is no doubt he achieved his aim of raising the level of confrontation with Russia.
Perhaps he was trying to match or even outdo the confrontation capers across the Atlantic where, in the course of a presidential election campaign which has developed into a bizarre circus that daily reaches new depths of vulgarity and xenophobic crudity, the anti-Russia candidate, Hillary Clinton, has made it clear that if she becomes president she will never deal with President Putin. Her contempt and hatred goes back a long way, and first became obvious when she was electioneering in the time of President GW Bush, who had said after his first meeting with Russia’s president that “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul. He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that’s the beginning of a very constructive relationship.” His point was that US-Russia relations would be greatly helped by personal understanding, which is a sensible approach to international affairs.
But Clinton dismissed the Bush statement with derisive scorn by declaring that President Putin “was a KGB agent. . . By definition he doesn’t have a soul. I mean, this is a waste of time, right? This is nonsense.”
At the election debate between Trump and Clinton on October 10 she reinforced her anti-Russia stance by formally pronouncing her belief that Russia is an enemy of the United States.
She was recorded as saying that “Putin and the Russian government are directing the [cyber] attacks, the hacking on American accounts to influence our election . . . We have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election, and believe, they’re not doing it to get me elected. They are doing it to try to influence the election for Donald Trump. Now, maybe because he praised Putin, maybe because he says he agrees with a lot of what Putin wants to do, maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow.”
So far as the next likely president of the United States of America is concerned, Russia is “an adversary” and anyone who speaks approvingly of President Putin must be condemned as a supporter of an enemy.
It could not be more plain that Clinton will never, unlike President Bush, even attempt to forge a “constructive relationship” with Russia. The confrontational approach that was promoted by Obama will reach new depths and intensity under President Hillary Clinton, and in this she will be joined by the United Kingdom.
The drumbeats of open hostility are growing louder, and soon we shall see how far Washington and London are prepared to go. And we shall also see for how long Moscow is prepared to accept their insults, their deployment of troops, warships and combat aircraft along Russia’s borders, and the growing level of relentless confrontation.
A version of this piece appeared in Strategic Culture Foundation on October 14.