Jeremy Corbyn has called for the UK to “ratchet down” military tensions with Russia after a fresh war of words erupted between London and Moscow.
The Labour leader believes British armed forces deployed in Eastern Europe are making the situation worse and would prefer a fresh diplomatic push to engage Vladimir Putin, his spokesman said.
Asked about the troops and RAF pilots currently operating in the area, the spokesman said: “we want talks and engagement to wind down tensions, particularly on the Nato-Russian border.”
The remarks came as relations between Russia and the UK hit a new low overnight, amid furious claims from its London embassy that Boris Johnson wanted a new ‘cold war’ to drive a wedge between the US and Moscow.
The Russians condemned Johnson’s remarks on Tuesday that Putin’s regime is “up to all sorts of very dirty tricks”, such as cyber warfare.
And as reports emerged that Moscow has ‘compromising’ intelligence on US President-elect Donald Trump, Downing Street defended Johnson vehemently.
Theresa May’s official spokeswoman fired back on Wednesday with a withering comparison of Britain and Russia’s economies, efforts to promote UN resolutions on Syria and the freedom of the press in both countries.
The UK has deployed hundreds of troops, as well as aircraft, drones and tanks to eastern Europe as part of the biggest build-up of Nato forces in the region since the fall of the Communism.
RAF Typhoon aircraft were sent to Romania, while 800 tank personnel were sent to Estonia, alongside French and Danish forces.
But speaking after Prime Minister’s Question time, a Labour spokesman said that Corbyn wanted a different approach to relations between the West and Russia.
Asked to comment on Johnson’s claim of ‘dirty tricks’ by the Russians, he said: “What we don’t want to see is a ratcheting up of tensions between Russia and the West. We want to see engagement with Russia on a political basis, on a serious basis.
“Jeremy has repeatedly raised human rights issues in Russia as well as issues surrounding its intervention in the Middle East and elsewhere, but it’s crucial from Jeremy’s point of view that’s not used to ratchet up tensions, especially military tensions in Eastern Europe.”
Corbyn has in recent months talked of the need to have a “demilitarised” zone on Russia’s border and his office believes Nato’s Article 5 - which commits states to defend each other - could include a diplomatic rather than military ‘response’.
The spokesman said: “There are a number of serious issues in play between Britain and Russia and the West and Russia more generally. The most serious of them obviously relate to the military situation in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Our priority would be to engage on that basis to ratchet down tensions.”
Asked directly if that meant the removal of British armed forces from Estonia and other border regions, he replied: “Jeremy has expressed concerns about that, that being one of the escalations of tensions that have taken place.
“We want talks and engagement to wind down tensions particularly on the Nato-Russian border.”
The Foreign Secretary confirmed for the first time in the Commons this week that the UK intelligence agencies had helped their American counterparts to verify that Russian hackers had tried to influence the US Presidential election.
On its offical Twitter account, the Russian embassy in London contrasted Johnson’s remarks with Margaret Thatcher’s attempts to promote peace between the USSR and the US in the 1980s.
Downing Street was furious at the latest jibe, which followed another lengthy attack on the UK on Tuesday, with former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove described as wanting a ‘witchunt’ against Moscow.
The Russians said in a statement that “western elites will go to great lengths to save their own world” and that “British special services are all too willing to oblige”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman hit back: “If you want to look at the record of the UK government in recent years and make comparisons with the Russians, you might think about negative economic growth in Russia, the UK being one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
“[And] how many times the UK consistently advanced and supported UN Security Council Resolutions on Syria, Russia was meanwhile veto-ing them....The fact that we have freedom of expression and a free press in the UK who will choose what they report. Those are just the realities of the UK versus Russia.”