If we are to defeat Isis, we must improve our relationship with Russia

Whatever Andrew Lloyd Webber thinks, Vladimir Putin didn't cause the refugee crisis

Kim Sengupta
Tuesday 05 July 2016 21:26 BST
Russian President said referendum result reflects UK's concern over migration and security
Russian President said referendum result reflects UK's concern over migration and security (AFP/Getty)

Britain is in a state of economic and political turmoil following Brexit. Every day brings news of more bleak times ahead; the United Kingdom may split up if there is another Scottish referendum on independence. But the greatest threat faced by this country now and one we should be focusing on, according to Andrew Lloyd Webber, is Vladimir Putin.

Lord Lloyd Webber was irked that while the “United Kingdom and Europe feign to quarrel over what sort of trade agreements we may or may not have in two, three or ten years’ time, Putin’s involvement is steadily destabilising our European borders and unleashing the fury of war in a sinister echo of the Somme”.

It was the Russian president who had apparently organised Brexit through Russia’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, single-handedly creating the refugee crisis. Lord Lloyd Webber was at full dramatic flow: "I shudder to think how Putin must be looking at our troubles with glee… In quitting Europe we are no doubt hastening Putin’s dream of the break-up of the EU, and with it potentially Western civilisation as we know it…

“I just hope that in five years’ time, we don’t look back with incredulity upon the way we wallowed in self-serving arguments about our economic prospects and how to better ourselves financially, whilst…. completely missing one of the greatest threats of our lifetime looming ominously on the horizon," mourned the billionaire Baron .

The Syrian refugee crisis had, of course, begun long before the Russian intervention there and to say that the Syrian civil war somehow led to the result of UK’s vote in the referendum to leave the European Union makes one think that Lord Lloyd Webber could have a second career as a stand-up comedian.

But the UK’s relationship with Russia is a serious matter and it is the subject of a new report by the House of Commons defence committee ahead of the Nato summit in Warsaw this weekend. Its main points are that relations between the two countries are at an “all time low”, that there is a paucity of knowledge about Russia among UK officials and that there should be renewed dialogue with Moscow and cooperation against Isis.

All this is broadly true. One of the reasons for relations being so bad, however, has been fairly constant criticism of Russia by British ministers which many Western European diplomats find irritating as it hinders collective dialogue with Moscow, especially over Syria. There should, indeed, be more cooperation against Isis, not just by Britain, but by other Nato countries as well --- note that the Istanbul airport bombers came from former Soviet central Asia. There is already cooperation between Russia and America on the sharing of airspace in Syria and this is likely to be extended to other operational matters following talks between US Secretary of State, John Kerry and Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

It is difficult to predict just how able the next British government would be to resent relations with Russia. One suspects that much of its energy will be spent instead on negotiating withdrawal from the European Union and trying to save the economy from further collapse, the real threat facing this country.

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