Centre for Opposition Studies at the University of Bolton - Russia is a threat, but remains open to deals, say experts

Posted on Monday 12th March 2018
Centre for Opposition Studies at the University of Bolton - Russia is a threat, but remains open to deals, say experts

The threat to the West from Russia is real and serious, according to expert speakers at a seminar organised by the Centre for Opposition Studies at the University of Bolton in the House of Commons this week.

Hosted by Jack Lopresti MP, the event was entitled ‘Russian Foreign Policy: Threats and Scenarios’. It brought together Professor Christopher Coker from the Department of International Relations at the London School of Economics and retired General Sir Richard Barrons, former Commander of the UK’s Joint Forces Command.

The University of Bolton’s Vice Chancellor, Professor George Holmes, warmly welcomed guests to the event and said how delighted he was that the University of Bolton, through the Centre for Opposition Studies, was having this seminar in the mother of all Parliaments.

In his opening remarks, Professor Coker set out the historic and cultural backdrop to Russia’s current foreign policy attitude towards the West. He argued that whilst the relationship is not a “clash of civilisations”, it is a clash of what he called “civilizational states”, each representing what they believe to be separate sets of values. These, on the Russian side, were non-negotiable, but this did not prevent them being interested in pursuing deals in their own self-interest:

“I don’t think Russia is an implacable enemy of the West – you can do deals with it. And it wants to do deals. It is an implacable enemy, not of what Putin calls the historical West – the West of the 19th Century and early 20th Century, with whom you can do deals – but the political civilisation which we call ‘the West’ which is embodied in institutions that he hates, like the European Union and NATO.”

He also highlighted the significant threat of Russia forming a greater alliance with China, which shares much of its criticism of western culture and values.

“Are we driving Russia into the arms of China? Donald Trump certainly thinks we are. Henry Kissinger writes about this at great length - it’s the great nightmare he says that keeps him awake at night. And I don’t really think there’s much of an alternative, because Russia has now redefined itself under Putin as being everything the West is not.”

In his remarks, Sir Richard Barrons outlined the defence and security aspects of the current Russian outlook, highlighting how comparatively weak is the British and western position, in terms of its capability to counter the range of threats posed by Russia’s military and hybrid means of confrontation. He added:  

“We have also given up any sense of mobilisation. In this country there is no plan for the mobilisation of the reserves. There is actually no plan for the defence of the country in conventional terms. This is an unnecessary gap which in a crisis is easily exploited. And if you bundle all of those things together, we exist right now in a place where Russia has created, despite its relative weakness, an advantage which can hold us at risk in our homeland, in our interests abroad, which we are not inclined to close. And I imagine that’s quite comforting to President Putin.”

He also highlighted the recent suspected poisoning of the former spy, Sergei Skripal, as an example of “hybrid conflict” to highlight how co-ordinated sanctions are not being implemented:

“We don’t understand as Russia does how you bring together all the levers of power to make your point to your opposition. So, I’m going to take the example of the former spy being done over in Salisbury – the discussion has been about whether certain Royals should or shouldn’t go to a football match in Russia in retaliation. And when Russia sees this, it just assumes we’re either weak and decadent, or we’re not serious. Because we still sell them flats in London, or still take their money in the city, and we’ll still accept their children into our schools. Whereas in Russia, they would assemble all of those things and by diktat make sure there was a co-ordinated response. We are not competitive in the hybrid space.”

Speaking after the event, Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, Director of the Centre for Opposition Studies, said:

“We are very grateful to our two speakers for sharing with us their unique expertise on this very topical subject. This event is a demonstration of how the study of opposition embraces the analysis of international power relationships which at their most fundamental are debates about competing strategic and defence interests. This is a strand of work on which we will be pursuing further debate in future.”

The Centre for Opposition Studies was founded in 2010 to advance the study of political opposition in the UK and overseas and in 2017 formed an innovative new partnership with the University of Bolton to develop the centre as a leading research institution in the field of politics and democratic studies. 

You can find out more on CfOS at: www.bolton.ac.uk/oppositionstudies