Last week, I heard the wholly irresponsible words of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. His claim, that Russia posed as great a threat as the Islamic State, were quite frankly unhelpful. His comments came after the Royal Air Force scrambled fighter jets to ward off Russian aircraft in British ‘areas of interest’. Or, in simpler terms, the area of sea between England and France known as the English Channel.
But why are these comments so irresponsible? For one, Mr. Fallon goes on to accuse Russia of trying to destabilise the Baltic States. Of course, this is not a comment I can refute with evidence. I hardly know enough about Eastern European politics to challenge him on the accuracy of his claim. However, I can object to his comments on the basis that they were rash and resulted in most of the media talking about Russia as the ‘old enemy’. Mr. Fallon also was in disagreement, it appears, with David Cameron, who in response to the RAF scramble seemed to brush off the presence of Russian aircraft off the coast of Cornwall as something that did not require meaningful recognition.
But apart from toeing a different line to the Prime Minister, Mr. Fallon’s comments also represent what I deem a serious miscalculation to further estrange Russia at a time of serious instability in the Middle East. As Lord Heseltine rightly asserted in Question Time, the Islamic world is the soft underbelly of Russia. Making comments that accuse Mr. Putin of attempting to destabilise NATO nations is hardly a sensible way of reconciling with Russia in face of this long term challenge in the Middle East that now seems ever closer to Europe after IS activity in the failed state of Libya. Another topic altogether.
Perhaps more frustrating than the Defence Secretary’s comments have been the tirade of rhetoric displayed on the BBC today of ‘those Russians’. I do not wish to trivialise the serious events that have taken place in the Crimea especially as innocent civilians continue to suffer in war torn Eastern Ukraine. However, the discourse that has emerged is one of Cold War mumbling, portraying Putin’s Russia as a regenerated Soviet Union. All is fallacy and severely undermines any future attempt by the West to counter IS with the support of Russia.
Are we truly ignorant to the domestic climate of Russia? Even I, someone who does not follow Russian domestic politics as seriously as I would like, recognise that the Russian economy is suffering. Oil prices are dropping and what better way for Mr. Putin to regenerate his (already substantial) support than releasing footage of Russian military activity in Northern Europe? I can’t think of many. Certainly, I hope this is something that is recognised by Mr. Fallon and others of serious positions of responsibility that claim to represent British interests.
I would urge readers to listen to Peter Hitchens on the issue of Russia. He is someone who actually has a deep understanding of Russia, its people and international politics. His talk at Bristol University (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UeO44STvnJw) embodies the misunderstanding of many over Russia and Eastern Europe. My own knowledge comes largely from my studying of Russian History, and although I cannot claim to be an authority on the subject, I can at least see the stupidity in seeing Putin’s Russia as the old enemy and one that will ruin our foreign policy if we continue to accept this outmoded view of international politics. I hope Mr. Fallon realises this soon.