76.6% of the electorate. 56 million votes. The largest win in Russia by any post-soviet leader; it’s been a successful March for Vladimir Putin.
Aside from the small matter of winning a presidential election, we’ll leave ‘winning’ in there and let you draw your own conclusions from that, Russia has been busy elsewhere in a ‘diplomatic-expulsion-off’ with Britain.
In similar fashion to a large game of international chess – only Putin and Theresa May require more pieces by removing 23 diplomats each – the two global powerhouses have seen tensions become increasingly strained following the nerve agent allegedly used by Russia on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.
Why would Russia pick an international dispute with Britain now?
If the Kremlin is to blame for deploying the nerve agent on Mr Skripal and his daughter, a former Foreign Officer believes the attack is directly on Britain, rather than a means of punishing Mr Skripal and his previous involvement with MI6:
“Moscow’s goal is to demonstrate the UK’s weakness and isolation and to drive a wedge between us and other countries. The Kremlin understands how to make these sorts of interventions at just below the level that will trigger a serious collective reaction against them.”
— A former Foreign Officer Adviser
Despite other arguments suggesting the attack was orchestrated by Russia in hope that Britain will retaliate by sending home wealthy Russian oligarchs – the move to publicly murder not just an individual, but also a family member, is a clear message to the treatment of anyone willing to involve themselves with western nations.
The idea that Britain is losing allies across Europe following Brexit could be a fair assumption to make at this moment in time; there has been a genuine show of support from some EU powers but not an overwhelming amount. The likes of Germany have reason to be wary due to their dependence on Russian resources: 40% of its oil and 35% of its gas come from Russian imports.
On the other side of the pond, there was concerning acknowledgement from the US and senior officials in the Trump Administration; once one was made, by Rex Tillerson, in support of Britain blaming Russia for the attack – he was fired just days later:
“Trump fired Tillerson as secretary of state, underlining that May is likely to receive little or no help from the US, once the UK’s closest ally.” — Luke Harding, The Guardian
Britain’s vulnerability and questionable strength of ties to previous allies are clearly – if Putin is found responsible – being challenged by Russia and a reason why the Kremlin is testing the UK and her western counterparts.
Has Britain handled the situation well?
Despite the obvious frailties which compromise Britain’s position on the international scene, many have defended Theresa May and her handling of the situation.
A YouGov poll for the Times recently found that 53% of the British public believed the prime minister has dealt with the situation “well” in expelling 23 Russian diplomats, whilst the ability to galvanise the US, France and Germany in admitting that Russia was to blame for the attack was a big win for Britain:
“May’s other big victory this week was to galvanize the support of the US, France, and Germany. The leaders of all three nations signed a joint statement, which said there was “no plausible alternative explanation” for the Skripal poisoning other than a Kremlin hit-job.”
— Jake Kanter, Business Insider
Britain’s ability to therefore showcase how her relationships remain intact with allies, despite both Brexit and a frosty rhetoric between May and Trump, highlights how Britain has adequality dealt with the challenge of Putin’s question to Britain on her ties to western counterparts.
Has May ‘won’ the dispute with Putin?
Tensions between Westminster and the Kremlin don’t look like easing. Although some have praised May for her handling of Putin’s tactics, there remains a major question of what next?
The endorsement British allies have shown in the support behind May does not necessarily make this a ‘win’ for Westminster.
“Just look at Syria. Europe, collectively, talks a good game. But it rarely registers on the scoreboard these days. And the sniggering man in the Kremlin knows it.” — Simon Tisdall
Europe’s track record of allowing Russia to flex its power in Europe has proven a dangerous game and Putin’s landslide in the recent Russian elections does not look like Russia will be put on the back foot anytime soon.
May has managed to not lose face, yet, and stand up to Putin whilst proving to Russia that ties with British allies remain intact in a post-Brexit Britain.
So far, not much damage done, but the tension between Britain and Russia could continue to grow and May’s political strength is likely to be questioned once again sooner rather than later.