In the West the painting of Russia as an expansionist power bent on destabilization continues. And the UK arms industry couldn’t be happier. In a report produced by the UK House of Commons Defence Committee, arguing for an increase in UK defence spending, seeing Russia described as being “central to the discussion of resurgent state-based threats” comes as no surprise. It is indicative of the unreality currently dominating what passes for serious politics in the UK, a country whose descent into irrelevancy continues as it struggles to navigate a political and constitutional crisis unleashed by Brexit.
Rather than any kind of threat to the UK, Russia is being used as a convenient distraction on the part of an ruling establishment which, per Marx (Karl, that is, not Groucho), is no longer able to control the powers of the netherworld it has called up by its spells. In other words, the demonization of Russia reflects the inability to come to terms with a multipolar reality, preferring the unreality of hegemony instead.
Russia poses zero threat to the UK or its legitimate security and national interests. The UK, on the other hand, does, as part of a Western bloc that has taken the opportunity to push its military presence all the way up to Russia’s western border, pose a threat to Russia and its legitimate security and national interests. There are no Russian troops deployed anywhere near the UK; no Russian airbases or missile defence shields either. But yet Russia is deemed the threat?
This, surely, is a worldview which has more in common with Alice In Wonderland than the reality of the situation in Europe in 2018. The inability to forge relations of peaceful co-existence between East and West, almost three decades after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, is rooted in two different conceptions of the international order. Among Western elites the attachment to hegemony, as its conception, obtains at the cost not only to peace, stability and cohesion in Europe, but to the detriment of their own people.
Digressing for a moment, in a country in which over 4 million of its children are living in poverty, in which its pensioners are among the poorest in Europe, in which millions of families are dependent on foodbanks, whose National Health Service is mired in crisis, surely there are more pressing priorities when it comes to UK government spending than new weapons systems which have no relevance other than to the balance sheets of UK arms companies and defence contractors.
Boris Johnson, a man who exudes the privilege and entitlement of a British ruling class whose worldview remains stuck in the 19th century – back when the country ‘ruled the waves’ – has made it his business to identify Russia as a threat not only to the UK’s security but Western civilization itself. In his capacity as Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Johnson compared Russia’s hosting of the World Cup to the Olympics held in Nazi Germany in 1936.
Staying with the World Cup in Russia for a moment, visiting England fans have been reporting a warm welcome everywhere they go, and significantly so in Volgograd – the city commonly recognized by historians as the site, when it was known as Stalingrad, of the most epic and important battle of WWII, resulting in the Red Army overcoming the Nazi war machine to turn the course of the entire war against fascism in Europe.
Russia’s conception of the international order is rooted in anti-hegemony, a rejection of one pole or bloc arrogating to itself the right to dominate on the basis of might is right. The wreckage wrought by the succession of regime change wars after the demise of the Soviet Union is stark evidence of the brute reality of hegemony and the need for a return to the principles set out in the UN Charter, devised at the end of WWII with the objective of ensuring that nothing like it happened again. Those principles revolve around respect for national sovereignty, international law, and self-determination.
Bridging the gulf of understanding which lies between these two competing and antagonist visions of the world has never been more essential, given the pressing need for the restoration of stability, cohesion and peace in a time of deepening tension and unrelenting instability. Sadly, the UK House of Commons Defence Committee report reveals that the British political elite continues to be stuck in the past, hanging on to retrograde hegemonic tropes and ramping up the ‘Russian threat’ as the sine qua non of the country’s foreign policy.
“The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil,” George Orwell writes in his classic novel, ‘1984’, “and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.” Boris Johnson and his co-thinkers within the British political establishment, it would seem, have interpreted Orwell’s book as an instruction manual rather than a work of fiction. The real threat to the UK is not Russia. The real threat to the country is the refusal of its political class to let go of the unreality of Western hegemony and recognize, accept and embrace the reality of multipolarity.