Another Controversial Chapter Between UK and Russia Opens as Liz Truss Becomes the New PM

The Russian and Western media headlines have glaringly shown the future of Britain-Russia’s bilateral relationship and how that will further work in multilateral format in the context of the current global changes as Ms. Liz Truss becomes Britain’s new Prime Minister. Of course, this does not need a simplified or much detailed explanation, as both have locked horns over many publicly-known issues within the context of geopolitical changes.

Media articles’ headlines, “Kremlin scathing over Truss but Kyiv praises Britain’s new PM” (The Guardian) and “Russia says relations with Britain could get worse as Truss elected PM” (The Independent) painted groomy pictures about the future relations between the two countries. And of course, Britain and Russia have been struggling to raise up their bilateral relations during these past several years with little success. 

Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss is not new to to Britain and Russia’s politics and diplomacy, and the geopolitical changes. She previously served as the British Foreign Secretary. Now, she has won the race for the leadership of the ruling Conservative Party, as indications from the results of an internal party vote, declared on Sept 5.

Truss, 47, received the votes of 81,326 rank-and-file Conservatives. Her rival, former Finance Minister Rishi Sunak, 42 got 60,399 votes. As the leader of the ruling party, Truss replaces Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and has to appoint a new Cabinet. Truss becomes Britain’s 56th Prime Minister, and formal confirmed as head of Her Majesty’s Government at an audience with Queen Elizabeth II.

Ms. Liz Truss’ perspectives on many important issues are completely at variance with the position often taken by the Russian Federation. In July 2022, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized in an official statement against her anti-Russia remarks which are invariably steeped in painful aggression and nationalism, that is, Russophobia. Within the political spectrum, she is considered as a threat towards the country and its leadership, and especially the current “special military operation” in Ukraine.

“She looks like a second-rate politician afflicted by megalomania. And she is doing all of this instead of addressing the issues at home, which are plenty. This collection of empty slogans vocalised by a raging Truss clearly shows that, in fact, she is either unable to spot the serious crisis in the economy and in domestic politics in a country whose government she is striving to lead, or she simply does not know how to overcome it and is trying to distract voters. Clearly, the well-being and living standards of ordinary Brits are not among her priorities,” Zakharova described her in comments posted to the official website on 14th July.

While there are thousands od evidences pointing to the worsening bilateral relations in political, economic and cultural spheres between the two countries, Russia usually slams Britain together with the European Union into the same category. Similar to the previous well-known Cold War, Russia is battling multiple confrontations from the United States and European Union.

Russia, most often, view Britain from its historical perspectives and the colonial past, and directly connects with the present time. Russia authorities have convincingly and publicly highlighted the British colonial practices that spanned for more than half a century. Perhaps, taking a line from Russia’s MFA sources, Russia views these two geopolitical blocs as “aggressive and warlike nature and obvious narrow-mindedness” and to deepen our understanding of the situation. 

As Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out during the 30th Assembly of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy, “The external circumstances have not changed radically, not becoming more elevated unfortunately with each passing day. The choice we have taken is made easier by the fact that the ‘collective West’ has declared a total hybrid war against us. It is hard to forecast how long this will last. But it is clear that its consequences will be felt by everyone without exception throughout the world.”   

Lavrov further explained that this is not only and not so much about Ukraine, having decided the way to global hegemony, which is being used as an instrument to contain the peaceful development of the Russian Federation in the context of their course to perpetuate a unipolar world order, right after the end of the Cold War. Russia’s diplomacy is, on the one hand, to act with great resolve to fend off all adversarial attacks, while, on the other hand, to consistently, calmly and patiently reinforce positions in order to facilitate Russia’s sustained development from within and improve the quality of life for its people. 

Britain’s diplomacy has posed problems, in the political, economic and cultural spheres for the Russian Federation. In the cultural sphere for instance, Russia was forced to close the British Council. Until now, educational and consular services are still not resolved, so are many important issues in the political and economic bilateral cooperation. At one time, the fatal 2006 poisoning of former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko in London. And the next one, London also used the incident in Salisbury linked with the suspected poisoning of former GRU employee Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia as a provocation against Russia. 

Britain has joined the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and many other countries in imposing draconian sanctions on Russia. In addition to that, Britian as a member of the Group of Seven, acts in complete coalition with Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States on a number of issues against the Russian Federation. The Group of Seven is composed of the seven wealthiest advanced countries. 

After the historic fall of the Soviet era, Russia dreamed of raising their status by joining international organizations. Over the past three decades, Russia became a member of many global bodies, participating actively at the United Nations. But with the Group of Eight (G-8), due to sharp differences among members and the last straw relates to its undertaking of “a special military operation” in Ukraine, Russia ultimately withdrew it membership.

David Harding, British journalist and author, early September wrote that Russia’s relations with Britain would get worse under new prime minister Liz Truss. He referred to issues that includes a growing energy price crisis and the war in Ukraine, both of which are affected by Britain’s relations with Russia. The article was based on Kremlin’s warning shots across the new government by claiming that the low level in the current relations between Moscow and London could get even worse than they are now.

“I wouldn’t like to say that things can change for the worse, because it’s hard to imagine anything worse,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said when asked if Moscow expected any shift in relations with Britain. “But unfortunately, this cannot be ruled out, given that the contenders for the post of British prime minister competed with each other in anti-Russian rhetoric, in threats to take further steps against our country, and so on. Therefore, I don’t think that we can hope for anything positive.”

Truss is chiefly known in Russia for a visit she made to Moscow in February, when she and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held a rancorous meeting. Lavrov described their conversation as like a dialogue between deaf and mute people, complaining that facts had ‘bounced off’ her. Russia’s foreign ministry has also openly mocked her over geographical gaffes, including on one occasion when she mixed up the Black and Baltic seas.

Truss openly challenged Lavrov at their meeting over Russia’s troop build-up near Ukraine, saying: “I can’t see any reason for having 100,000 troops stationed on the border, apart from to threaten Ukraine.” Moscow, which had denied invasion plans, sent its troops in two weeks later. Since then, Britain has been one of the most active and vocal supporters of Ukraine in the war, supplying it with weapons and training.

While there have been several congratulatory messages for Liz Truss, none came from the Russia’s official domain. Dutch PM Mark Rutte said on Twitter: “The Netherlands has long enjoyed close ties with the UK, and I look forward to working with Ms Truss to strengthen them even further.”

In addition, Austrian media compared her to Margaret Thatcher but one French newspaper, Les Echos, called her an Iron Weathercock, rather than Iron Lady, for constantly changing political position. Further, German chancellor Olaf Scholz also took to social media to proclaim: “The UK and Germany will continue to work closely together – as partners and friends.”

Russian media, however, published many reports about political developments and have speculated about the directions in future relations. Russia’s wide-circulated Izvestia wrote that British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has become the new prime minister. As a successor and loyal supporter of former leader Boris Johnson, Truss would lead the ruling Conservative Party, at least, till the 2024 parliamentary election. “Notorious for her harsh rhetoric on Russia, Truss used it proactively in her election campaign. And yet foreign policy is secondary for the British, with a solution to the energy crisis and the fight against falling living standards being their top priorities,” wrote the newspaper.

The British PM favors active support for Kiev and believes the goal for London is to have Russia defeated in Ukraine. With that in mind, Truss could be viewed as a direct successor of Boris Johnson’s policies. The outgoing premier, perhaps, involved in the Ukrainian conflict more than any other Western leader. Boris Johnson visited Kiev, Ukrainean capital, three times since Russia launched its special military operation, and he was accused of overlooking domestic issues due to his preoccupation with foreign policy.

The key tasks faced by the new prime minister certainly relate to the economy and the wellbeing of ordinary citizens. “The United Kingdom is faring much worse economically than the other West European countries,” Vasily Yegorov, an expert on British politics and the author of the Westminster channel on Telegram, told Izvestia. According to forecasts, Great Britain could face 18-22% inflation rates. If the government copes with that issue this fall, it would be easier further down the road. Truss should come up with her economic program in the near future.

Britain and Russia established relations several years ago. Even with the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall much of the relationship has been under constant strain. During these past few years, the relationship has been tense due to European Union sanctions against Russia. The British being viewed as a driving force for those sanctions, making the relationship awkward. In conclusing, Britain and Russia will still be rocky in the coming years and even more turbulent over many bilateral and global policy issues under Liz Truss, the new Prime Minister of Britain.

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.