Sunday,24 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)
Sunday,24 February, 2019
Issue 1370, (23-29 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Blame it on the Russians

In a recent speech, British Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to blame the Russians for her own lack of leadership, writes Hany Ghoraba

Whenever nations face uncertain times and their leaders are unable to tackle them in an apt manner, they attempt to misdirect the public towards a foreign enemy in order to cover up for their own government’s failures. Developing world dictators are masters of this craft in which the public is fed with stories of grand Western or global conspiracies that target their freedoms and the security of their countries. 

In her speech of 13 November British Prime Minister Theresa May joined the ranks of autocrats who attempt to beguile their populations into believing that their problems are the creation of foreign powers and that they should remain united in the face of such threats. May aimed her speech at Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying that “we know what you’re up to” and claiming that the Russians were “sowing discord” in the United Kingdom through “fake news”. 

She accused so-called Russian cyber-hackers of swaying the opinions of British voters in the referendum on leaving the European Union, the so-called Brexit. These cyber-hackers, supposedly situated in St Petersburg, had, according to May and some British reports, swayed voters to vote in favour of Brexit through Twitter accounts. 

The absurdity of this claim is insulting to British voters even if such hackers existed. The idea that the British nation could fall prey to a bunch of cyber-hackers, causing it to choose to exit from the European Union, is so belittling to the nation that it can only signify that it has fallen to a truly lamentable state. But in truth the problems in Britain have completely different roots that are unrelated to Russia or its foreign policies.  

Casting the blame on the Russians for British troubles cannot provide an answer to the questions haunting the British government, including the country’s poor economic performance. The UK has the slowest growth of all the EU countries, with just 0.2 per cent of GDP announced in June 2017. Added to that, the security and immigration problems that have marred the country for over a decade are still unresolved. 

May is simply ignoring the fact that the British public felt under strain as a result of European Union connections due to the influx of legal immigrants from countries such as Poland and other Eastern European member states of the EU. Immigrants from these EU nations have acquired a significant portion of the job market, especially relating to skilled jobs.

Moreover, May failed to explain how the Russians had supported the Islamist groups operating in Britain and posing a huge threat to British and international security. These have put Britain in a vulnerable position and have been responsible for the terrorist attacks that have struck the country in recent years. While turning down many potential visitors to the UK, some of them with relatives in the United Kingdom, the British authorities have been more than welcoming to Islamist leaders from across the world, even granting asylum to notorious terrorist organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb Al-Tahrir. 

In one of her poorest performances to date, May’s speech seemed disconnected from British political realities. She was systematically deflecting the issues facing the United Kingdom and blaming them on the Russians. While that tactic may work for a while, sooner or later the British public must realise that this is just a way to cover up for May’s own inability to lead the nation at this crucial moment of British history. 

May’s speech sounded bizarre for a country that possesses the world-famous BBC news agency and the world’s most famous intelligence agency MI6. Yet, despite having these tools available to her, she apparently feels that Russian propaganda and espionage tactics are overwhelming Britain and causing internal discord. Unsurprisingly, her speech has drawn ridicule from both the Russians and the British media. It has aggravated an already tense relationship with Russia and has brought nothing but sarcasm from the British media.  

Russia may pose a threat to its neighbours such as the Ukraine and the Baltic states given the turbulent history they share, with these countries having been parts of the former Soviet Union. But Russia does not threaten British society or influence British voters as the prime minister claims. 

May borrowed a chapter from the dictators’ playbook, expecting the British public to swallow her sensationalist speech and the lacklustre excuses she has been providing despite how illogical they may seem. Her attacks on Russia are unlikely to be the last from Western politicians who have been targeting the Russian state over recent years and blaming it for their own internal problems. 

For European Union governments who have been failing their citizens over the past few years, May would like to think that she has found a magic solution to fend off criticisms for their own failures: blame it on the Russians. 

The writer is a political analyst.

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