We can no longer assume that London and Washington agree on Moscowby Crispin Blunt / March 16, 2017 / Leave a comment
When Theresa May visited Donald Trump in January, she also spoke to the Republican caucus about the need to “engage but beware” with regard to Russia. This advice came too late for Trump’s now-former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The less-than-wary engagement with Russia landed both men in political trouble, and also highlighted the urgent need for the west to align its policy on Russia.
The Foreign Affairs Select Committee has reported on UK-Russia relations, and concluded that the Kremlin is now a challenge to the rules-based international order. The assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, cybersecurity threats, the illegal annexation of Crimea, the destabilising actions in the Donbass, and the brutal conduct of operations in Aleppo, are all examples of this challenge. The success of collectively agreed western policies, such as sanctions, is crucial in response. Yet Trump’s campaign rhetoric shocked many in its apparent readiness to depart from convention. His initial comments on sanctions and Nato caused anxiety on both sides of the Atlantic.
We cannot any longer assume that London and Washington share a common view and united policy approach on Russia. British strategy to manage Russia must therefore involve ways to influence the US administration, strengthening those within the State Department, Pentagon and CIA who, like May, wish to tread carefully. Despite the suspicion caused by contacts between Trump’s team and Russian officials, the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has assured allies that the US won’t do a Russia deal over their heads, and the Secretary of Defence, James Mattis, has spoken of the need to negotiate with Moscow “from a position of strength.”
Nevertheless, there is likely to be increasing difficulty in maintaining a united western position on sanctions, with potential pressure for their weakening from both the US and some EU states, leaving the possibility of the UK becoming isolated on sanctions.
Our select committee argued that the UK “should prioritise international unity on policy towards Russia in talks with the new US administration, and should continue to work closely with EU partners to maintain support for Ukraine.” Britain will need to be nimble to respond to developments and any openings for peace processes in both Ukraine and Syria. But there must be…