Global Analysis from the European Perspective. Preparing for the world of tomorrow




A casus belli in British-Russian relations

Analysis of the situation and its potential

PM Theresa May uses the Sergei Skripal case for domestic purposes, by creating an external enemy she wants to bolster her authority. According to our analysis, she cannot make good on her threats, and in the end this new conflict with Russia will only weaken her position.

The attempt at poisoning double spy Sergei Skripal has evoked Great Britain’s response, which in turn raises a number of questions. Skripal was a GRU agent who was convicted in Russia for spying for the British MI6. In 2010 he was released within the framework of a spy exchange and arrived in the United Kingdom. At the beginning of March this year he was attacked with novichok, a paralyzing substance, in the British town of Salisbury and so far has been in a critical condition. The British government accused Russia of using chemical weapons on the territory of a sovereign state. PM Theresa May demanded explanations from Moscow and even went a step further, saying: „Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”.1)Russian spy poisoning: Theresa May issues ultimatum to Moscow, The Guardian, 2018-03-13.As can be seen, London is trying to spark off a diplomatic dispute, and it can be even said that the British PM regards the event as a casus belli. The Kremlin dismisses the accusations as unfounded and warns Great Britain against ill-considered actions.2)Russia will kick out UK media outlets if London shuts RT – RIA, Reuters, 2018-03-13.

The Gefira team analyzed a possible scenario of events.

Military intervention
Great Britain’s military potential3)2017 United Kingdom Military Strength, Global Firepower 2017.is nothing compared to that of Russia,4)2017 Russia Military Strength, Global Firepower 2017.which has over eighty times more tanks and nine times more fighter planes and assault aircraft. Although the British forces have two aircraft carriers (Russia has one), they are not able to threaten the Russian space, whereas the United Kingdom as an island state is much more vulnerable. Russia has 15 destroyers and 63 submarines (of which about 30 with atomic propulsion), whereas the United Kingdom has 6 and 11 respectively. Furthermore, Russia, according to the concept of Heartland, occupies strategic areas in central Eurasia, which are very difficult to conquer in contrast to the external borders of Europe and Asia, which are more difficult to defend.5)H. Mackinder, the author of the Heartland theory, assumes that the areas located in Central Eurasia are a natural fortress and predestine a sovereign who holds them to rule over the rest of the globe. For more see: A global conflict is knocking on the door, Gefira 2017-10-03.The involvement of NATO countries, despite the declaration of solidarity in the face of the British-Russian conflict,6)NATO to UK: Count on our solidarity, Euronews, 2018-03-15.is unlikely due to the lack of legal circumstances allowing for the application of Art. 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Cyberattack
Though London has one of the world’s strongest cybernetic potentials, a cyberspace attack on Russia seems unlikely because the parties to the conflict are technologically equally advanced to guarantee mutual destruction in this respect. Russian retaliatory actions may hit foreign companies that have their headquarters in the United Kingdom and that’s something that the British government takes into consideration as also the fact that a cyberwar escalation could lead to the paralysis of a globalized world. The only retaliation that the United Kingdom might resort to is the disclosure of credit card information of Russian politicians, oligarchs or diplomats, which, however, would only adversely affect individuals rather than the interests of the Russian state.

Economic sanctions
The imposition of economic sanctions not only by London, but also by the EU Council is highly possible. Their effects, however, will be marginal. Also Washington is likely to support the introduction of economic restrictions on Moscow. Similarly to the 2014 sanctions, these will apply to the banking and financial sector, oil companies, embargoes on the sales of arms and advanced technologies or the freezing of assets of individual Russian politicians and oligarchs. The relations that hold between the Kremlin and the largest European players, such as Berlin and Paris, especially in terms of energy supply seem to be more important than a dispute over a former double-agent. After all limitations of gas supply would afflict Europe more severely than European sanctions could harm Russia.

Diplomatic sanctions
And that’s where it will all end. The decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats from the UK7)Britain expels 23 Russian diplomats over nerve attack on ex-spy, Reuters 2017-03-14.is the largest such procedure since the end of the Cold War. Moscow replied in kind: it threw British representatives out of Russia.8)Russia to expel UK diplomats as crisis over nerve toxin attack deepens, Reuters, 2018-03-16.The cancellation of all bilateral meetings announced by Prime Minister T. May and her announcement of lowering the rank of the football world championships held in Russia this year only expose the helplessness of British diplomacy. Neither can the UN do anything about the event, since Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council may veto any decision.

In conclusion, it is highly likely that PM Theresa May rather than trigger off an international reaction used the occasion for the needs of her domestic politics by creating an external enemy. Making threats without being able to carry them out – whether due to one’s own weakness or lack of international support – is equivalent to sabre-rattling. The United Kingdom cannot take any action that Moscow would not be able to reply. What captures our attention is the assiduous attempt on the part of the European leaders to persistently look around for an external enemy, at the same time turning a blind eye to the profound demographic changes that are taking place on the Old Continent.

References   [ + ]

1. Russian spy poisoning: Theresa May issues ultimatum to Moscow, The Guardian, 2018-03-13.
2. Russia will kick out UK media outlets if London shuts RT – RIA, Reuters, 2018-03-13.
3. 2017 United Kingdom Military Strength, Global Firepower 2017.
4. 2017 Russia Military Strength, Global Firepower 2017.
5. H. Mackinder, the author of the Heartland theory, assumes that the areas located in Central Eurasia are a natural fortress and predestine a sovereign who holds them to rule over the rest of the globe. For more see: A global conflict is knocking on the door, Gefira 2017-10-03.
6. NATO to UK: Count on our solidarity, Euronews, 2018-03-15.
7. Britain expels 23 Russian diplomats over nerve attack on ex-spy, Reuters 2017-03-14.
8. Russia to expel UK diplomats as crisis over nerve toxin attack deepens, Reuters, 2018-03-16.

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