Sergei Scripal’s and his daughter’s poisoning came as a bolt out of the blue, barely a week before Russia’ deadweight presidential election. Russia has been adopting an emboldened projection of its power over the past years, however this was particularly brazen. The UK’s and the international community’s reaction was unprecedented to all intents and purposes and has been a resounding coup for the UK.
Russia’s approach to external relations is mirrored in its emboldened approach as the period of internal crisis of the early 1990s has been surpassed. From the decisive war against Georgia in 2008 to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the intervention in Syria Russia has shown a renewed vigour in projecting its interests. Russia has also been seen seeking to influence the ongoing turbulence in the European Union by encouraging more extremist groups. Russia is also seen as benefitting from the UK’s departure from the EU as it weakens the EU’s global clout and potentially reduced the UK’s stature in the international arena. Against such a background, the UK has succeeded in rallying a substantial international; response to the Salisbury poisoning, beyond expectations, and a much stronger international response when compared to the Litvinenko poisoning that took place in 2006.
The UK’s strength in responding to the latest poisoning is also tempered by the US President’s impulsiveness and ambiguity on his views on Russia and the Russian President. In an analysis on the UK’s response for Chatham House Dr Nigel Gould-Davies stated that the international response garnered by the UK was unprecedented and in itself the diplomatic response was a strong signal to Russia. Ironically at the same time that the UK is negotiating it’s exit from the European Union, it was EU Member States that were supportive of steps to punish Russia. This puts forward to tantalising question: will the UK be able to keep such clout once it exits the European Union? Would such a response have been able with Britain outside the European Union? Such questions point to the extent of the challenge posed by Brexit since after March 2019 the UK will be outside the European Union’s formal structures with the added implication the agreeing a united front between the UK and the EU will take longer and it will not be fore granted that the EU will come to the UK’s aid.
As the row between the UK and Russia deepened, cooler heads called for calm given the already very bad state of diplomatic relations between these two UN Security Council Members. The way forward for UK Russia relations is not an easy one and the poisonings in Salisbury have further aggravated the already strained relations. However, facts on the ground dictate the necessity of keeping an ongoing dialogue with Russia even though situations such as the occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine along with the Russian intervention in Syria will keep matters from going back to normal. Both the UK and Russia are important powers with considerable influence abroad and both face challenges at home. The UK needs to chart a new course after Brexit and keep its influence, whilst Russia will need to chart a course for a post-Putin future while trying to ensure that the expectations of its younger generation are met.
Article submitted by Diplomatique|Expert