New report highlights political warfare between Russia and the UK

A new report by the Council on Geostrategy has highlighted the state of political warfare between Russia and the United Kingdom

In its latest research report by Dr Andrew Foxall, Senior Research Fellow at the Changing Character of War Centre, University of Oxford, the Council on Geostrategy has described how Russia is engaged in a form of political warfare – known as ‘national positioning’ – with the ultimate goal of undermining the United Kingdom on the world stage, in the first paper of a new national positioning series.

Including a foreword by Sir Andrew Wood GCMG, British ambassador to the Russian Federation from 1995 to 2000, this paper, in three sections, examines how Russian leaders view the international system, analyses how the Russian state has positioned the UK through political statements, state-controlled media and policy documents, and finally explores the UK’s responses to these forms of political warfare.

In the course of this analysis, Dr Foxall highlights the insecurity of the Russian leadership and contradictions underlining Russian attempts to position the UK as a ‘second-tier’ power’, used Russian state media to frame the UK as a hostile country which posed danger to Russians and shown how UK actions have often seemed design to trigger a response from Russia.

Having produced this analysis, Dr Foxall offers a number of recommendations to UK policy makers:

  • Work to increase societal cohesion within the UK by renewing democratic values and principles, as well as fulfilling its promise to adopt a UK Foreign Agents Registration Act and implement the recommendations from the Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia report surrounding financial regulations and cracking down on the ability of foreign agents to exploit public discourse in open societies.
  • Emphasise Britain’s alliances, through expanding co-operation beyond NATO with groups such as the Northern Group (an informal cooperation format bringing together NATO members bordering the Baltic or North Sea), the European Union and the ‘Five Eyes’ group of countries.
  • British officials and elected representatives should avoid childish language (‘Russia should go away and shut up’) and engage with Russia frankly, but professionally.
  • The UK should be clear about what Russia is and not adopt the language of the Russian state. References to Russia as a democracy should be avoided, perhaps in favour of ‘kleptocracy’.
  • The UK should engage with the Russia people to celebrate the UK’s historic and cultural ties with Russia, in contrast to Britain’s approach to the Russian state.

James Rogers, Director of Research at the Council on Geostrategy, said:

For too long there has been a lack of understanding of how the Russian state has tried to ‘position’ the United Kingdom on the international stage. This paper by Dr Andrew Foxall corrects that.

For the past decade at least, the Russian state has been utilising state-controlled media, policy documents and official channels to undermine perceptions of the UK’s global role in Britain, Russia, and beyond.

British policy makers should heed the recommendations of this paper and ensure the nature of Britain’s relationship with Russia is understood.