A notable alumni and the UK’s Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, delivered a speech at the Buchanan Theatre Thursday evening about the resurgence of Russia. As if there isn’t enough political debate at the moment, Fallon clearly outlined even further the position of the world’s largest political players.
Joined by 350 spectators, it was no surprise that queue was already stretching to Sainsbury’s by 5.30 pm, with only a few moments to spare before the crowds reached Fat Face.
A hush fell upon the audience ten minutes after the expected starting time. Michel Fallon, upon following an introduction by the Vice Chancellor and Sir Hew Strachan, began by stating the similarities and positive links the UK shares with Russia, such as academic merits, foreign engagements and diplomatic interests.
It wasn’t long until the brutal reality of the states’ relationship was revealed. Fallon took the audience step-by-step through Russia’s position in the annexation of Crimea, which began three years to the day. He informed the audience on the one million displaced since the start of the conflict with Ukraine, and he described how Russia was violating the ceasefire deal. Switching to more recent political movements, Russia’s current involvement with Syria continued to capture the attention of the audience. Fallon sympathetically warned the audience that Russia was not revealing the truth about the position and number of its troops; which potentially could infringe upon what was agreed by the states. Fallon used Churchill’s expression of “terminological inexactitude” in order to describe Russia’s loyalty in respect to the Syria situation.
Russia’s position with NATO was a major topic within Fallon’s speech. As NATO is continuously trying to expand their influence, Russia is seeing this as a threat – i.e. the West trying to take Russia’s alliances. Although it could be interpreted that Russia is threatened by the NATO troops, which are consistently surrounding its borders, Fallon explained his view; that in fact it is Russia targeting NATO; claiming that NATO is just attempting to modernise.
Furthermore, Fallon clearly laid out three key opinions of the UK’s attitude towards Russia. Firstly, he stated that Russia was not “business as usual,” reinforcing its history from the Cold War, Russia continuously changes its ways, and its attitude is often unpredictable. Secondly, the UK will continue to reinforce deterrence. He described the economic effects that Russia had to deal with since the EU imposed its sanctions. He felt that Russia would begin to learn from these implementations and would therefore not carry out the same doings in the future. Lastly, he mentioned that “deterrence and dialogue go hand in hand” with one another; therefore the UK will continue its relationship with the global power.
The Secretary of Defence then began to explain the steps that the UK was currently taking to keep communications going with Russia. Examples of this include maintaining their shared interests; Fallon praised their cooperation in the Iran nuclear deal. As a St Andrews student, studying at the peak of the Cold War, he recalled that he “couldn’t see how the Soviet Union could change their ways,” before praising them for actually changing some of their attitudes. Similarly, Fallon thanked civilians who also helped influence movements within the Cold War, as it was the “resilience of the people that went beyond the iron curtain.” He continued to stress that UK would continue to engage with Russia in order for optimum cooperation and peace.
The Q&A session was filled with questions, ranging from topics of Yemen to the media’s influence in politics. A particular question towards the end of the event brought the whole room into laughter, when a student asked about the failed missile test.
At the end, Fallon thanked the audience before reassuring each and every one that the next step for the UK is to maintain and influence transparency with the “Resurgent Russia.”