HAVING been derided as a ‘small island no one pays attention to’ by the Kremlin as David Cameron’s premiership was plagued with animosity between the two powers, new British prime minister Theresa May is moving to rescue the relationship from further enmity.
On Tuesday it was confirmed that May had discussed multiple tensions with Vladimir Putin in the first telephone call between the leaders ahead of a possible face-to-face in China next month.
The Russian president has cast a long shadow over British politics since he was accused of ordering the poisoning of defecting spy Alexander Litvinenko in London ten years ago.
Tensions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea saw Britain join American and EU-led sanctions against Moscow, with the Kremlin in turn threatening to disrupt Europe’s energy pipeline from the east.
Numerous incidents have seen Russian jets test British response times, while many in Moscow consider the UK a central character in Nato’s suspected project to institute regime change, along the lines of the ‘colour revolutions’ which spread across the former Soviet bloc.
Putin’s spectre even hung over the Brexit referendum with Cameron suggesting the bear-wrestling, crocodile-fighting strongman would relish a Leave vote, enabling Russia to dominate a disunited continent. In response Putin described the claims as a “flawed attempt to influence the public opinion in his own country”.
Theresa May now finds herself navigating shifting sands as relationships with erstwhile European allies are set to be tested in looming Brexit negotiations. She has a reputation as a pragmatist and as Home Secretary declined to press Putin over the Litvinenko inquiry, preferring to allow room for diplomacy in talks over the Syrian conflict.
“While discussing topical issues in Russian-British relations, both sides expressed dissatisfaction with the current state of cooperation in the political, trade and economic spheres,” read a statement from the Kremlin following the telephone conversation.
The potential thawing in tension comes as a leaked report from the British army’s warfare unit revealed concerns that Russia is quickly cemented a significant military advantage over the UK, which is “scrambling to catch up” with new technologies.
Electronic warfare in particular was highlighted as a weakness, as were basic weaponry and air defence systems, while Gen Sir Richard Shirreff, Britain’s former top officer at Nato said in response:
“What we get from successive governments has been that it is all fine and dandy and ‘aren’t we doing well’. Actually, the reality is that our capability has been dramatically hollowed out.”