James Nixey*: Foreign Policy and Security Strategy of the West on Russia: View from the UK


Thank you very much indeed, and particular thanks to the organizers, to the Center of Russian Studies and the Diplomatic Academy. I was here in event but I don’t often get invited back, so it is a real pleasure. Obviously, I didn’t do too bad the last time.

I should also say it is a bit humbling speaking after such excellent presentations. And, it’s very nice to be in Ukraine, speaking about Russia, all things considered, I think it is a sign of real maturity considering the fact that Russia is in war of Ukraine right now. I will tell you, as a participant of many conferences on Russia across Europe, the quality of discussion, the honesty of discussion, and the maturity of discussion about Russia is far greater here than in most countries.

So I bring you greetings from the front line in the conflict with Russia. It has seemed as if in recent weeks as it was Londoners’. But I don’t mean it because to really believe that would be quiet crass, because thousands of your country men have died in the conflict with Russia in the past five years, and none of mine has, so it is a poor joke on my part I apologize. But the reason I mention this, I suppose, because when I was discussing this conference with Aleksander Samaski, in fact, few weeks ago, he was telling me that it seemed in Ukraine as in the light of a scrip our affair but the UK is seen as leading on Western policy towards Russia. Now we are victims of a chemical attack and before that of the radiological attack. And because the UK has been successful in bringing around many global leaders onto its side and if you like, for example, unprecedented expulsion of Russian diplomats spies across the globe. So, I can see some merit in that argument. I wish that was true and the UK was leading the globe on Russian policy. But I must say that it is not quite how I see it. And I will explain why. My country, although a pretty good friend to Ukraine in recent years, has not resolved the contradictions in its Russia policy, I’m afraid. Obviously, there is a contradiction of supporting Ukraine and wanting a better relationship with Russia. Those two things are dichotomy. But, the main contradiction I really want to talk about is that at the moment as you can see we so viscerally and unavoidably in a conflict with Russia, so publicly, and yet the UK cannot get rid itself of the temptation of flirting with Russia, especially financially, but also diplomatically. So why do we flirt with Russia? Lots of reasons, and I would like to go through them.

I think many people in the UK believe, in, sort of… that we have been beastly towards Russia in the past 1990s by inviting, by expanding NATO, by stamping on the Russian ambitions, by bringing in other newly independent states into the Eastern partnership or other various international conglomerations. And so they believe that Russia has a point as a result of a way in which we have treated Russia. That’s one. Number two, is many people, I suppose, perfectly reasonably don’t want to start a war, they don’t want to antagonize the bear. They are genuinely afraid of bear. I know that is blackmail, but there is a reasoning. Number three – some people are bribed and undertaken. Number four – some people are true believers, and in fact their ideology is paramount. They live a hard right, like it should be the UK party, or hard left or they’re anti-American, and that equals them having a soft spot for Russia and for Putin himself.

The next reason why the UK is wobbly on Russia is diplomats. I’m sorry to say. I know I’m speaking at Diplomatic Academy. I’m not always a fan of my own diplomats anyway, and that is because … Obviously, that it’s in the very nature of diplomats, it’s in DNA – to want to make relations better, that’s fair enough. But the problem with that is, as you know, but lots of my countrymen don’t, is that Russian diplomacy has designed its purposes to return us to the Cold War state of affairs, to a constant great power state of affairs. So, that is the problem with diplomats in Russia, especially not trained in Russia and Russian don’t understand that. And finally, of course, there is a threat of financial interest that would be harmed or be assets, or expropriated, that people’s salaries depend upon Russia. I work in the same square as BP, BP is over exposed in Russia. Many people’s pensions probably including mine, are wrapped up in BP. But also it’s not just that, there are law firms, constancy firms, it’s not only economists penetrated by Russia, it’s that specific companies are, and those lobbyists in those companies are more powerful than, you know, me. In short, what I am saying is my government is only reluctantly on side because of the specific things that have been done to it and the country in recent times. And you can prove that because when Teresa May was home secretary, in 2008, they were thinking about public enquiry into Litvinenko affair, she stamped on it, she said there are should not in be public enquiry into Litvinenko because it would affect trade and/or international relations with Russia. There are lot of various examples of this. So most politicians in the UK really get it, I’m afraid, they don’t understand the basic truth the Russia means us, the UK, and the West more broadly, harm in pursuit of its ambitions. They are actively work against us to undermine us, into interest of their ambitions. And that is in spite of just what just happened, media “furrory” in the last couple of months. But, of course, actually there was a month and a half ago now, and memories are short, the new cycle moves on, it’s out of the news already, I now series Russia is a part of, but even so, people want to get back to business. Brexit is a factor here we don’t yet know. What whether Brexit will never go out options and we will have to look for new markets including Russia again. And we are leaving the Americans to do all the hard work which is exactly what have been doing and I’ll talk about that more, cause I’m not going just talk about the UK here. Recent events I think mark moment when America took the offensive in the war of Russia. From the Russian side, as I understand it, Russia has always had a quite, is in a specific relation with the UK, it is almost mythical, the UK, in Russian eyes. Of course it is also investment, schools, universities, property, and even the Russian children are influential on us. … /It is extraordinary/. Also Russia sees the UK a weakening element in the EU. We even knew that Russia tries to exploit the fissure, the cracks, and of course, the UK is really in risk of fragmentation itself right now, so Russia sees that. So I think the Russians can’t quite .. but we can’t get rid ourselves or our addiction to Russian money, Russia can’t quite get rid itself of it to the UK addiction as well. We will see what happens in light of what Americans have been doing. Russian quiet money for illegal means, we leave voluntarily because we are scared or by force, we shall see.

What’s the good news? Because I think there are plenty of good news, although I think I was a little bit depressing. I mean… the fact is as we are no longer seeking to draw Russia into the global economy, the West, I mean. America at least realizes integrating Russia into the Western economy did not mean a western vision for Russia. Which we saw it did. And it is doing something about it now. Putin practiced sovereign democracy at home, and sovereign globalization, and even sovereign in front of many nouns, and the less that it occurs. And it worked. But it work for a time, Russia became more integrated, but less western, we didn’t see it. And of course it worse for now, Russia honest those economic ties and used them for political events, political ends, so its economic influence became a source of political influence. Anyway, these rival visions west rules of the integration, Russian sovereign globalization are incompatible, they could not survive in Ukraine. My point is that America is on board in spite of Trump, in spite of the craziness towards Russia we have just concerned, just look at last one we have drawn by Exxon from his partnership with Groznev that is a serious setback for Russia. Which was beginning to learn to live with sanctions but I think this is a new war game now. Sanction entities really no longer have any involvement in a global economy, and a firm dealing with west firm into real trouble if I do. Oligarch assets are no longer safe and wider uncertainty is now being created.

Came back to the UK for second, the UK government also does understand that Russia affects us right being so close if you like. Russia has direct bearing on the UK interests, we do understand that if Russia releases mellower to knock out Ukraine’s computers that affects us, and it takes millions of dollars of bottom line of our companies. That exactly what happened three months ago. We understand about security and resources, we have made steps there, and obviously, the government does understand that we are fertile territory for “activnye meropriyatiya”, basically. I also take account of that fact, although I am worried about this is tendency, diplomats tendency, then the popular view of Russia in the UK, the public’s view of Russia, is overwhelmingly negative. It would also support tougher action on dirty Russian money. And I also take half of my military… military defense are tougher, more realistic militaries, they are plenty equipped to understand the reality of Russia. Clearly, in recent times, has been good news on intelligent sharing, the UK has shown that we can give an appropriate intelligent sharing still club together and convince other countries there is a threat in spite of the pre-existing tendencies, shall we say.

Russia’s security concerns, which obviously mean buffer zones, which obviously mean Ukraine, I don’t see any tendency in the UK and elsewhere to except that Russian influence that demanded. So I mean visa association is very good for Ukraine, we are not going to dump Ukraine, as I feared, certainly, it is partly because of recent events. We have invested a lot of political capital, not so much financial, into Ukraine. And if Europe follows the American example, then life for Russian global elite, the key networks that sustain the Kremlin’s power will be increasingly uncomfortable.

And some worrying tendencies finally. I’m more pessimistic than optimistic. I wouldn’t advice to Ukraine not so fully trust, not to place all the eggs into European basket. Why? Because of European wobbling. I think I am worried about the ability of the UK and other countries to forge it, to say one thing and do another, you should look at actions, not words. America is prepared to accept costs. I am not yet convinced the UK is prepared to accept costs on its balance of payments. We will see. I worry about the opposition in the UK. Geremy Cover is not a friend of Ukraine, there is distinct possibility he could be a Prime Minister next 12 months. Because the current government is very weak. I think, he is very dangerous man. I present you, ladies and gentlemen, a mixed picture of West approach towards Russia. Please be aware, watch us, and monitor us closely.


*Information about the author:

James Nixey –  Head, Russia and Eurasia Programme, Chatham House, Great Britain

The article is prepared on the basis of address at the International Conference  «Presidential Elections in Russia: Conclusions and Forecasts».

19.06.2018 08:00:00