Just imagine UK media headlines if Russian President called a leading opposition party threat to national security? pic.twitter.com/XmRNUhrTC8
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) September 14, 2015
British politics is a confusing place at the moment. Following a surprisingly comfortable election win for Prime Minister David Cameron's center right Conservative Party in May, the opposition Labour Party is now led by the old school leftist Jeremy Corbyn – a man previously better known for his willingness to disobey his own party orders than his chances at leadership. It's a situation few could have predicted and fewer still would be willing to predict the next twist.
Watching this all very closely is the Russian embassy in London. On Monday, they decided to stir the pot.
After Corbyn was confirmed as Labour Party leader this weekend, Cameron had gone on the attack, warning that Labour was now a threat to the country's "national security" in a tweet. Predictably, Cameron was quickly mocked by other Twitter users.
— Vikki Stone (@vikkistone) September 13, 2015
The Russian embassy sent its own tweet containing a screenshot of Cameron's, arguing that if a Russian leader had said what Cameron had said, the British press would have gone wild. The tweet (which you can see at the top of this post) quickly went viral, gaining more than 7,000 retweets by the time of writing.
It's tempting to dismiss the Russian embassy's tweet as pure "whataboutism," a disingenuous message designed to deflect criticism of its own actions rather than present real criticism. There's some truth to that idea: You can argue that any real opposition that a Russian president would consider a threat has been neutralized years ago thanks to state intimidation and persecution, a point would certainly blunt the Russian Embassy's message.
However, the embassy's tweet also shows a canny awareness of some of the concerns surrounding Corbyn. The longtime Labour Party member has made a variety of unorthodox statements related to foreign policy over the years, including suggesting that he wanted to leave NATO and referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as "friends." These unorthodox views extend to Russia. In 2014, Corbyn penned an article for the Stop the War coalition's Web site that warned against Western military intervention in Ukraine. The article stated that NATO's attempt to "encircle Russia is one of the big threats of our time." Corbyn has also appeared on Russia's state run television channel RT a number of times, often criticizing British and American foreign policy during these appearances.
It's unclear whether Corbyn's new position as leader of Britain's second biggest political party will lead him to temper any of these positions. He has attempted to redress his reputation as a friend of Moscow: “I am not an admirer or supporter of Putin’s foreign policy, or of Russian or anybody’s else’s expansion," he told the Guardian in August.
Even so, Britain's right wing press have repeatedly attacked Corbyn for his perceived foreign policy views – some have even questioned whether he should have access to the top level security briefings given as a matter of routine to opposition leader. The trepidation over these views may extend to his party, too. According to one account published by Sky News, one politician tasked with helping Corbyn with Labour's foreign policy turned down the job after insisting that Corbyn take part in "a 30-minute conversation about what would happen if we had to invade Russia."
Corbyn's comments may seem a boon to Cameron, but they also could cause headaches for him. While he leads the biggest party in Britain's parliament, he will still likely seek cross party support for any major foreign actions. Stung by losing a vote on military action in Syria in 2013, Cameron may be limited in his foreign policy options when dealing with an unorthodox opposition leader like Corbyn. British political observers will be watching closely how both leaders behave if Cameron seeks a vote on extending British airstrikes into Syria.
Over the past few years, some in the U.S. have expressed concern that about Britain's shrinking international clout, as the country has cut back on military spending and focused on internal problems. However, as Britain's foreign policy panic looks set to get worse as Corbyn becomes opposition leader, you get the impression others might be responding with schadenfreude instead.
— Alexander Yakovenko (@Amb_Yakovenko) September 14, 2015
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