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Bark or Bite? UK's Foreign Secretary Compares Putin to Hitler

Updated: May 23

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary David Cameron is playing the part of strongman politician for Russian despot Vladimir Putin. Speaking to the UN, Cameron compared Putin and his government to that of the Nazis' saying “the only people behaving like Nazis are Putin and his cronies.” He has also urged the United States not to show the same “weakness displayed against Hitler.”


Cameron, like his predecessors, believes he can gain favour by appearing strong in the face of an adversary. There is a certain public expectation that senior British politicians should show this kind of strength. However, this rhetoric represents a significant change in strategy form the Foreign Secretary. Prior to this engagement, Cameron’s rhetoric about thew Russia-Ukraine war has focused on supporting Ukraine, not calling out Putin with quite so much vitriol.


I believe Cameron is attempting to harken back to the stately wartime figure of Churchill whose wartime rhetoric will forever cast its shadow on the speeches of our contemporary politicians. It is reminiscent of the approach that plagued Thatcher before Britain's invasion of the Falklands or the desire Tony Blair had to seem capable of standing up to Saddam Hussein. This attempt to construct a strongman persona is an inherited feature of British politics. It’s a battle image, not always accompanied by astute or pragmatic politics. Nor does it, in Cameron's case, represent a credible stance. It seems to me like bark and no bite as he tries to keep America firmly involved in the conflict.


Cameron and the UK are feigning strength. Britain is choosing to take minor action in the response to Navalny’s death, whilst they continue – as with the rest of the West – not sending enough military equipment to Ukraine. Meanwhile, Kyiv has begun criticising its allies for more than half of equipment arriving late delivery and all the while Ukraine's allies continue to bypass sanctions they themselves imposed on Russia by trading through third party states.


The threat of sanctions could still present an existential threat to Moscow, but as of late they’ve done almost nothing. Perhaps the West will realise sanctions are futile without enforcement. In the case of Navalny’s death, if the UK’s response is again sanctions it will fail. Who in the UK is left to sanction and at what point will Western nations stop circumnavigating them?


Russia has supposedly been bombarded with economic punishment even though Moscow has fortified its strategic position, moving away from Western economies and towards the rest of the world. Russia has adapted and formed new relationships - economic and military - with partners across the globe. Targeted sanctions, if they target anyone at all, aren’t the best way forward unless those sanctions are effectively imposed.


The UK’s Foreign Secretary's warring words aim to utilise Navalny’s death as a catalyst to mobilise support against Putin. Clearly, he sees the looming threat of Trump’s re-election.


The United States is more divided about the war in Ukraine than ever, and Trumps side of the aisle are deeply disgruntled. In fact, after Cameron called for the US not to show the “weakness displayed against Hitler” Trump-aligned fire brand Marjorie Taylor-Green said, “frankly, he can kiss my a**.”


The most powerful faction of the American right is all in on a one-nation approach, isolating themselves from the rest of the world in the name of uplifting the nation. Thus, they aim to isolate themselves from the military and economic efforts the West makes to back Kyiv. Ukraine and its most ardent supports are more than a little concerned that a Trump presidency will pull its support for Ukraine and back a resolution which benefits Putin.


Additionally, the upcoming Russian presidential election is crucial, as it not only tests Putin's grip on power but will influence UK foreign policy positioning. Under Cameron's leadership the UK will look to present Russia to the public as an existential anti-democratic threat and therefore influence position to Britain's Western allies. This election, the first since the Ukraine conflict began, is significant for its potential to challenge Putin's authority amid growing domestic opposition and in the wake of Navalny's death. Even though Putin is consolidating power and minimising political dissent to strengthen his position the visible dissent that will likely be seen across Russia will buoy Western narratives of Putin's decline.


In the short term, the United Kingdom benefits from the undemocratic nature of Russian elections as it bolsters the position of Cameron's confrontational rhetoric. The absence of accountability in Russian politics highlights the need for external pressure as the Russian people deserve better than a dictator. Furthermore, if the US continue to support Ukraine Putin's hand will always be forced but, if Trump returns the tables turn. Time will tell if Cameron's bark turns to bite.


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