The prime minister’s annual speech on foreign affairs might have highlighted Brexit or the disruptive effect of Trump. But it was vital to call out Russia’s propaganda war too
Britain’s prime minister makes a sharp and critical speech about Russian attempts to undermine the UK’s institutions. In one sense, not much new there. This is what British prime ministers do, and have done for decades, before, during and after the cold war. This is the UK’s default setting. So when Theresa May made the prime minister’s annual speech to the lord mayor’s banquet this week, a speech traditionally about UK foreign policy, it is not entirely surprising that she used it to mount an attack on Vladimir Putin and his propaganda war against the west. The real surprise might have been if she had done otherwise.
Mrs May pulled no punches. She said the alliances that maintain the global rules-based order must be defended. (It was less clear from her speech in what way, if at all, Brexit contributes to this worthy effort.) But the chief threat to the rules-based order was Russia. Mr Putin’s actions threaten that order, she said, in Crimea, in the Donbass, and through cyber-espionage and disruption. Russia has violated the national airspace of several countries, meddled in elections, hacked the Danish defence ministry and the German Bundestag. In the most striking lines of the speech, Mrs May said: “I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing.”