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Global Affairs

Russia Matters

 4 min read / 

Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1989 that:

“[w]hat we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

In the nearly thirty years that have passed since then, his predictions have failed to materialise. Indeed, the world seems engulfed in a myriad of ideological struggles that make the sharp dichotomy presented in the Cold War look simple and straightforward.

Russia’s Relations with the UK

Relations between the UK and Russia are at their lowest since the dissolution of the USSR. The narrative presented in Russia is that the past two and a half decades have seen the motherland humiliated by the western powers of the Atlantic alliance. The feeling expressed by the Russian ambassador to the Court of St. James was that in the post-Cold War situation, there was a sense of victory in the west, which led to the expansion of NATO and the EU which threatened any revival Russia might have.

There were three events which helped turn the public opinion is Russia firmly against the West. The first was the 1999 enlargement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to include the ex-Warsaw Pact countries of Poland, Czechia, and Hungary on the 12th of March. Less than two weeks later NATO began its bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, which Russia saw as a challenge to its status in the region. Then President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, who had held an early pro-west stance, resigned just before the turn of the millennium, to be replaced by the at-the-time relatively unknown Vladimir Putin. Putin has, since his first inauguration, followed a markedly more nationalistic and forceful foreign policy agenda then Yeltsin.

Russia’s Views of NATO’s Expansion

The expansion of NATO was seen as a threat to the security of Russia’s borders. This understanding was acknowledged by the United Kingdom in a 2000 Foreign Affairs Committee report, discussing the recent enlargement of the alliance, which stated that:

“[We] recommend that enlargement must be considered sensitively in the context of Europe’s security as a whole. One important element of this is Russia’s relationship with NATO, which enlargement has clearly harmed.”

The growing rift between Russia and the UK was further widened by Britain welcoming Russian exiles, like Boris Berezovsky, a billionaire who opposed Putin’s increasingly authoritarian rule in Moscow. In 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB agent, was killed on British soil. The UK embraces a foreign policy predicated on a rules-based international order; an order that is undermined by Russian actions, like the assassination of subversive agents under the protection of a foreign nation.

The west sought to integrate the former Eastern Bloc nations into this international order following the fall of communism. This included not just Russia, but Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic states, among others, and was, again, seen by Moscow as a malicious and growing threat that was edging closer and closer to its borders.

The Atlantic alliance was expanding, and the view from the Kremlin that this network of nations needed to be destabilised.

Destabilising the West

This program of destabilisation was outlined in the 1997 book Foundations of Geopolitics by Aleksander Dugin. Goals to be pursued include the cutting off of the UK from the rest of Europe; the annexation of Ukraine; and that in the United States Russia should provoke internal divides and increase the support of isolationism.

It seems that many of these goals have been achieved. The United Kingdom voted for Brexit, Crimea has been absorbed into the Russian Federation, and the election of Donald Trump has split America.

The truth is that Russia matters. Russia stands accused of another assassination, this time unsuccessful, on British soil.  Russia has been accused of influencing the Brexit referendum in its attempt to destabilise the western alliance. The end of the Cold War has not brought about the end of history. Instead, new ideologies have emerged, and Russia, looking at its diminished role in the world, embraced a potent nationalism. The UK and Russia have a long history of antagonism. As long as Russia continues to project a divisive nationalism, relations with the UK will not improve.

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