Security and Foreign Policy

Anglo-Russian Relations Post Brexit: The Only Way Can Be Up

Contributor Farrah Barber analyzes the tepid relations between the UK and Russia post Brexit. Given that Russia-UK relations have devolved and hit rock bottom in the past century, she posits that the relationship between the two will only improve. 


Throughout the twentieth century, Anglo-Russian relations have been contemptuous to say the least. For the two powers, the past century has been one of highs and lows- from Allies to espionage, from invasions to assassinations. There had appeared a glimmer of hope in Theresa May’s call for a ‘red, white and blue Brexit’, it appearing as though the flame in the bilateral relationship was re-igniting. Both Britain and Russia sought out diplomatic companionship in an increasingly hostile political environment.

Putin and May, in their debut phone call, expressed sheer ‘dissatisfaction’ with the volatile nature of the diplomatic ties between the states- they discussed the establishment of a dialogue that will boast mutual reciprocity and put their fiery rapport to rest. The Great British treasure (and Foreign Secretary), Boris Johnson, told his Russian counterpart Lavrov that they must actively pursue a policy of normalising relations to secure a universally beneficial future.

However, this did not last long. As the genuine ramifications of Brexit came to the forefront of worldwide news, and the red, white and blue hues of British patriotism dissolved- Anglo-Russian relations again returned to their tense and uncertain precedent.

Relations had been deteriorating for years, chiefly fuelled by the overwhelmingly condemned Russian invasion of the Crimean Peninsula, the infamous assassination of Litvinenko, and the recent Russian airstrikes in Syria. Russia and Britain bear a plethora of moral and political disparities; and the future of bilateral relations between the states remains uncertain. This is of course excluding the Putinophile that is Nigel Farage. Farage made no secret of his nationalist sympathies for Russia, admiring the pawn-like manipulation of Russia and former USSR states, pushing the Kremlin on Ukraine. However, the UK domestic view of Nigel Farage and his strongman persona reflects to a large extent the view of Russia, a nationalist, contentious aggressor.

Following the conspicuous activities of Russia in cyberspace, both the British Government and espionage services alike felt a souring of their attitudes toward Russia. Theresa May has not hidden her dissatisfaction with Russia’s overt efforts to “weaponise information” by meddling in European elections. As global intrigue continues to grow surrounding Russian intervention in the US presidential election, it’s difficult to see a short-term smoothing of relations. This, indeed, was not aided by Maria Zakharova’s condemnation of May’s ‘cynical’remarks, offering the response that British action in the Middle-East had ‘caused suffering of millions’ and fed the instability of regions.

After the profound disagreements between Russia and NATO that have snowballed since Russia’s unprecedented military action in Georgia in 2008, things seemingly can’t get worse. As the Allies stand beside Turkey against Russian airstrikes, and NATO tackles Russian rhetoric surrounding Syria, relations have quite evidently hit rock-bottom.

Thus for 2018- the only way, surely, can be up.

The reality of Brexit and what it holds for Britain is a murky and uncertain fate, encased in rhetoric, embellished with indecipherable jargon. The ‘second-phase’, the transitional phase, is set to be one of genuine shifts and movements in the international arena as Britain abandons its place in the European Union. Britain, as a middle power in international relations, is now to pay the price for its underlying exceptionalist sentiment with rigid negotiations and an unrelenting Merkel ensuring that David Davis has a challenge on his hands. This, one must assume, will force Britain to begin its search for international allies.

Boris Johnson has condemned Russia, Russia has retaliated with a witty public tweet about Theresa May sampling some ‘Crimean red wine’, and it seems like the two states are reaching a plateau of political disputes.

2018 brings something that hasn’t existed for centuries- a very desperate Great Britain, seeking solid political and economic allies. Despite being the fifth largest global economy, it can easily be imagined that Britain will seek closer economic ties with Russia. Britain had always spearheaded the European economic sanctions against Russia, and following Brexit this is likely to falter. This translates to greater Anglo-Russian and EU-Russia trade potential, and the sad reality is that money talks in the contemporary global system. Furthermore, British companies are continually seeing the allure of off-shoring to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The progressive nature of current Russian fiscal policy and its minimal regulation surrounding pay means that Russia offers an incredibly attractive economic alternative for British firms.

In a different manner, it’s very difficult to envisage a political utopia in 2018 in which the bilateral Anglo-Russian relations have settled and the two states have become allies. Even during the Allied phase of the great wars, there was contempt and hostility shadowing their co-operation, fed by Bolshevism and questionable espionage. As Putin’s expansionist sentiment resonates across the globe, Britain may see a parallel in the ‘lone-wolf’ state. Putting aside the incongruent attitudes regarding Syria, Turkey, the US, election-meddling, the Crimean invasion, unauthorised Russian Navy destroyers being spotted in British waters, perhaps the two states can reconcile. Perhaps.

It’s difficult to foresee a world in which Brexit, with its overt message of ‘Great’ Britain wanting autonomy, can facilitate dialogue between Britain and Europe. However, the tables may be turned for Britain and Russia. There’s an almost romantic undertone to the two lone-wolf states, setting aside nearly a century of political derision and suspicion, and forming a bond of union that endures. However, as the infamous Lord Salisbury once said, ‘the only bond of union that endures is the absence of clashing interests’; and to be frank, it seems that Britain is yet to decide what it’s interests are as it seeks a ‘hard’, ‘red, white and blue Brexit’ throwing its future with Russia in to tumult.

Farrah Barber is an International Relations and Russian student at the University of Saint Andrews. She is particularly interested in Political Risk and Intelligence, with a specialization in Russian foreign policy. 

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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