May loses opportunity to reset Russia-UK relations

British Prime Minister Theresa May looks stone-faced and dismissive as she reluctantly shakes hands with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on the margins of the G20 summit in Osaka.

As the old saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words. The outgoing British Prime Minister, Theresa May, could not look more sullen and dismissive even if she tried.

Meeting Russian President, Vladimir Putin, on the margins of the G20 summit in Osaka (Japan) on Friday, May looked stern faced and belligerent as she reluctantly held the Russian leader’s hand.

If there were even the mildest of hopes that the two leaders’ brief encounter might engender a tentative thaw in frosty Anglo-Russian relations, these were quickly dashed by May’s stone-faced gaze.

Instead of creating new space for reconciliation, May chose to repeat British accusations of alleged Russian complicity in the so-called “Novichok” affair, when in March last year a Russian double agent and his daughter were reportedly poisoned by the nerve agent.

Adopting her trademark patronising style, May reportedly told Putin that Russia must cease its “irresponsible and destabilising” activities.  

Predictably May’s belligerent position has been echoed by the two Tory party leadership hopefuls, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. In an unusually pessimistic note, leading contender Johnson has claimed that Russia will “always let you down”.

Meanwhile, Hunt, who is trying his level best to sound tough on foreign policy, in order to reach out to the Tory party’s grassroots, branded Putin’s claims about the end of “liberalism” as “an absolute disgrace”.

Whilst May will depart the arena in a few weeks, the tough talk from the Tory leadership hopefuls dash any hopes that Britain and Russia can begin to place their relationship on a stable footing after years of tensions.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin raised hopes of a thaw in bilateral relations back in December, when he called for an end to the “deadlock” in Anglo-Russian relations, during his annual press conference.

Britain’s reluctance to heed the Russian leader’s call for reconciliation will raise fears of further instability on Europe’s periphery, notably in Ukraine and the Baltic states, where NATO has tried to undermine Russia’s position.       


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