Russia is a threat to the West. This cannot be legitimately disputed as there have been far too many examples of Russian aggression, both overt and covert, attacking Western interests, Western businesses, and Western citizens. The recent reports of Russian bounties on UK soldiers and other Western Nations would appear to be yet another example in a long list of Russian attacks on the UK and the West. For those that missed it, it was reported that that the GRU, a Russian intelligence organisation, had been providing bounties to members of the Taliban to help them fight and kill coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Naturally, this was dismissed as “baseless” and another invented “fake news story”. But then again, we in the UK remember the transparent and blindingly obvious cover story after last year’s attack on UK soil. Who knows, perhaps in time we may even see a reference to Afghanistan’s world-famous spire, the Minaret of Jam.
However, this is not really a joking matter. There is a clear, distinct and obvious pattern of behaviour from Russia in the last few years. Is this simply a rogue, less-than-controlled part of Russia’s intelligence apparatus, or are they fully integrated in the chain of command and following orders from above? For me, I cannot believe that a President such as Vladimir Putin would ever allow a section of his security services to go AWOL, it is simply not in his nature to allow that level of disloyalty or threat.
Of course, this does not preclude the possibility of him allowing for attempts of plausible deniability. However, claims of that nature are transparent and quite audacious. Over the last ten years, Russia has made no real attempt to engage with international norms; there was the seizure of the Crimea and then the ongoing destabilization and conflict in the Ukraine, the failed 2016 Montenegro coup, the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury and now we are discussing reports of support for the Taliban.
Russia is not the only major country that is ignoring the principles that hold up our international system: there is also the behaviour of China that we need to consider. It is now beyond doubt that China has no intention of honouring the binding Sino-British Joint Declaration and the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined within it. The recent National Security Act is the equivalent of tearing the Declaration in half, burning the pieces, and then trampling the ashes beneath the boot of the riot police.
Not only did China rip up that agreement, but they have decided to go even further in by appointing a hard-liner as the security chief to oversee the new rules. Of course, some apologists may explain that the power and oppression that China will exert over Hong Kong is simply an extension of its authority and no different to any of the laws that govern the rest of the People’s Republic of China. There can only be one response to this, and that is to decry the fact that China feels the need to oppress its citizens.
One group of Chinese citizens stands out of all others, the Uighur Muslims. This minority group is under serious threat, with much of the Uighur population in China now having been forced into re-education/internment/concentration camps. It is estimated that over 1 million Uighurs have been detained by the Chinese government and subjected to all manner of brutal treatment.
Additionally, China continues to pursue incremental gains to its territory no matter how. For example, we have seen the recent news that Chinese and Indian soldiers have had brutal hand-to-hand clashes along the border. On top of this China appears to be continuing its policy of creating artificial islands as a method of claiming ever expanding sovereignty in South East Asia.
What should the West do when major nations do not follow the same playbook and do not act in the way that the West would like? Clearly, the current method of diplomacy does not appear to be working in the way that the West would like. Therefore, it would appear to be self-evident that a new approach is necessary.
We could take a more realist view, to try and copy some of the same methods and actions of countries like China and Russia and enforce our will through displays of power. However, there is no guarantee that this will not create a perpetual downward spiral of diminishing returns and constant escalation. We could take a more isolationist approach and refuse to engage – but when does ignoring a problem work? The West will need to confront actions like that of Russia and China – to take a meaningful stand – to say that a country has gone too far. In that moment, we must commit and be prepared to follow through or we will never be taken seriously again.