A Russian Reminder

(Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The UK government´s recent suspension of the extradition treaty with Hong Kong [1] comes at a time when relations between China and the West are poor. Conflicts surrounding Huawei and the situations in the South China Sea, the Xinjiang province, and Hong Kong (to name a few) have spurred an increased attentiveness in regards to China. Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, has characterized China as the “greatest long term threat to the future of the U.S.” [2]. The importance of China’s actions towards human rights and national security cannot be overstated. One state should not feel invincible because of its (economic) size or power of influence and I believe the People´s Republic should be constantly reminded of that.  

Acknowledging all this, we must realize the threat of Russia has never ceased to exist. With China´s ambitions of expanding its sphere of influence becoming more visible, its Eurasian neighbour is still dangerous and deserves our attention. The Skripals, Sergei Magnitsky, Boris Nemtsov, Anna Politkovskaya, and countless others know it too well. 

In light of the publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee´s report on Russia [3], I'm glad to see the criticism on the UK government´s handling of the Russian threat, particularly by Keir Starmer. It is especially important to respond to dangerous and illegal agressions to make sure historical revisionisms, violations of human rights, and other unlawful situations do not come to be viewed as inevitable and de facto acceptable.  

The Ukrainian regions of Crimea and Donbass and the Georgian Abkhazia and South Ossetia are examples of those situations which we cannot forget or (silently) condone. Another more recent one is a demonstration of the pernicious way Vladimir Putin thinks, namely his article in The National Interest [4].  

Among other things, Putin suggests the annexation of the Baltics in 1939 was “implemented on a contractual basis, with the consent of the elected authorities. This was in line with international and state law of that time” and considers the Red Army a liberating force. On this, Putin said “It is therefore bewildering that in certain countries those who are smirched with cooperation with the Nazis are suddenly equated with the Second World War veterans. I believe that it is unacceptable to equate liberators with occupants”. For the record – the suggestion of voluntary admission to the Soviet Union by the Baltic States is factually incorrect and a good example of an attempt to rewrite history in a way that legitimizes the totalitarian powers. 

This narrative that is driving Putin doesn´t take reality into account. Misrepresenting and making up one´s own facts is even more dangerous if such practice is not reacted to accordingly. Putin´s narrative, combined with the recent constitutional changes (one of which is Article 79, which essentially states the Russian constitution is hierarchically above international law) and imprisonment of journalists (see the case of Ivan Safronov) and people that have become too popular for Moscow (see the case of Sergey Furgal) clearly shows the face of Russia that has not become less of a threat to democracy and human rights.  

My point is not to devalue the conversation around China´s influence, but to remind that a multipolar world with multipolar threats needs a multifaceted capability for recognizing and dealing with them. That means giving attention to all problematic behaviour. To give the UK government credit, it was good to see Dominic Raab announce sanctions on Russian individuals (among others) for being involved in human rights violations [5]. Let´s hope this is indicative of the United Kingdom´s position on Russia beyond Brexit.

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-534768112

  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-533297553

  3. https://docs.google.com/a/independent.gov.uk/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=aW5kZXBlbmRlbnQuZ292LnVrfGlzY3xneDo1Y2RhMGEyN2Y3NjM0OWFl4

  4. https://nationalinterest.org/feature/vladimir-putin-real-lessons-75th-anniversary-world-war-ii-162982

  5. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-uk-sanctions-dominic-raab-moscow-foreign-secretary-a9605386.html

Joosep is a columnist for Liberal Base, Law student at the University of Tartu and the Vice-President of ELSA Estonia