The Conservative leader has been known for her anti-Russian credentials and the Kremlin has made its displeasure known after she rose to the UK's top political post.
Russia and the UK, the two former empires which competed with each other to claim the supremacy of the world’s political leadership until WWII, have seen a deteriorating trend in their ties in the last two decades.
Successive British leaders have increased their opposition to Moscow’s policies, observing the rise of Vladimir Putin’s Russia with suspicious eyes. And with Brexit, which has completely freed the UK from the EU’s foreign policy, the conservative leadership at the helm now in London could shut the door completely on the Kremlin.
The Russian attack on Ukraine has made bilateral ties even worse as the UK, one of the most vocal critics of Putin, appeared to be running the Western opposition to Moscow’s offensive against Kiev. Russians also described their ties with the UK at a level at which “it’s hard to imagine anything worse”.
But will Russia-UK ties get even worse under the new British Prime Minister Liz Truss?
“In Russia, Truss is viewed as an Englishwoman who will continue to harm Russian interests,” says Kamran Gasanov, a political analyst at Russian International Affairs Council, a Russian think-tank.
Moscow sees the UK as one of the main provocateurs of the Ukraine conflict, Gasanov tells TRT World, referring to the strong support London and the Western alliance have given Ukraine against Russia.
“Liz will define her foreign policy in opposition to Russia. Even the British domestic energy crisis and inflation is being blamed on Putin's invasion, so the animosity will carry on both for domestic and foreign audiences,” says Kamal Alam, a military analyst and a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“Liz was the embodiment of Boris Johnson’s anti-Russia initiative. So Russia will see more of the same as Liz carries Boris torch. Russia-UK relations will continue to nosedive,” Alam tells TRT World.
In Russia, Truss is known for her anti-Russia stances, according to Gasanov. Among others, three examples, which emerged during her foreign ministry under former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, have shown as to why Russians do not like her, says Gasanov.
Russia’s Truss perception
First, last year, she was pictured in a British tank in Estonia, a Baltic state and a former Soviet republic, which has serious disagreements with Russia. That’s something Russians don’t want to see, Gasanov says. But Truss’s tank picture has also made many in the UK nervous, seeing it as an attempt to emulate Margaret Thatcher, who also posed aboard a tank in 1986.
Second, during a critical meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov two weeks before the Russian attack on Kiev, she allegedly confused Rostov and Voronezh, the two regions in southern Russia, with Ukrainian territories in response to a question posed by Lavrov. This also proves her anti-Russian mindset, according to Gasanov.
During the press conference, she also elicited a public condemnation from Lavrov, who described their meeting as “a conversation between a dumb and a deaf person”, expressing his disappointment. “It seems like we listen but don’t hear,” he said.
But in the same meeting, the experienced Lavrov also acted dubiously, sternly rejecting Truss’s charges that hundreds of thousands of Russian troops were deployed alongside Moscow’s border with Ukraine to attack Kiev. Lavrov falsely insisted that Russian troops were there for military drills.
Overall, the second incident not only shows Truss’s anti-Russian behaviour but also her inadequate knowledge on Russian history and general world politics, according to other experts.
“She has proven to the Russians she is out of her depth, arrogant, ignorant and not someone that one can have any meaningful dialogue with. Relations are only likely to continue to deteriorate,” says Gregory Simons, an associate professor at the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Uppsala University.
Third, during the race for the Conservative party leadership to replace Johnson, she indicated “her readiness to use a nuclear bomb”, a statement, which made rounds across Russia, Gasanov says. Truss’s nuclear statement is also seen as a huge turnaround for a former leftist activist who participated in protests against nuclear armament when she was young.
But Putin was also seen in a nuclear weapons operating room at the beginning of the Russian offensive and also put the country’s nuclear arms on high alert, apparently sending a message toward the West that Russia might activate nuclear weapons if necessary.
In the face of all these statements, “Truss is considered (by Russians) an illiterate, populist woman who is aggressive towards Russia and she will act even tougher than Johnson,” says Gasanov. Many Russians believe that she will combine her populist moves with “harmful steps”, including sanctions against Moscow and arms supplies to Kiev, according to Gasanov.
As a result, Russians “suspected that it could be even worse under Truss,” says Gasanov, referring to Moscow-London ties. Simons also believes that Russia-UK ties will further deteriorate under Truss, who “is the worst possible candidate” for the top political post in London.
“She is absolutely subservient to US interests and global liberalism,” Simons says. He also develops a general criticism toward Western democracies claiming that “every successive leader is somehow worse than the last. People may reflect on Boris Johnson being an effective leader, which he is not, but he is likely not as bad as Truss shall prove to be.”
How UK-Russia ties have deteriorated
Since the anti-Moscow colour revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia in the mid-2000s, Russia-UK tensions have escalated as London strongly backed the protest movements.
As pro-Russian governments in Ukraine and Georgia were toppled by pro-Western democratic movements, angering the Kremlin, a fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian security officer, in London made things even worse between the UK and Russia.
The UK held Russia responsible for the death of Litvinenko, worsening ties with Moscow. After Litvinenko’s poisoning, there were other incidents like the suspicious death of Boris Abramovich Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch, in 2011 in London. Berezovsky, like Litvinenko, was an opponent of Putin’s rule. The UK also accused the Kremlin for the death of the oligarch.
In 2018, another incident happened in Salisbury, a British city, where Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and his daughter were targeted by a nerve agent. The UK again accused Russia for the attempted killing of the Skripals.
“The Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 marked a breaking point between Russia-British ties, leading both states to reduce their diplomatic presence in their host countries,” says Esref Yalinkilicli, a Moscow-based political analyst on Eurasia. “The UK played a primary role in the Western opposition to the Russian annexation,” he adds.
With the explosion of the Ukraine conflict in February, Russia-British relations are at a historic low point since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s as the UK expressed its fierce opposition to Moscow's offensive, arming and backing Kiev strongly. Through the Ukraine conflict, BBC was banned in Russia, while the UK also partly blocked broadcasting of some Russian media outlets, the analyst says.
In Moscow, there is a common perception, which subscribes to the idea that the UK and the US have no motivation to end the Ukraine war, aiming to prolong the conflict, according to Yalinkilicli. This perception increases anti-UK sentiment across the Kremlin, he says.
With Truss’s coming to power, this common perception will deepen in Russia because the Kremlin believes that she is “an uncompromising person,” Yalinkilicli tells TRT World. “They don’t expect any positive development,” he says.
“From whichever perspective you like to look at Russia-British ties, they are bad and complicated,” the analyst concludes.