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Are Current Uk-Russian Relations Best Explained by a Realist or Liberal Paradigm?

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‘Are current UK-Russian relations best explained by a realist or liberal paradigm?’

After decades of conflict and tension, UK- Russian relations can be described as ‘cool’ at best; however, recent events involving the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Salisbury have sent them tumbling. With Prime minister Theresa May’s assertion that it is highly likely if not completely unquestionable that the poisonings were ‘orders from on high’, and Russia’s stubborn denial of this accusation, UK-Russian relations, as well as Russia’s foreign relations have plummeted; Major world leaders- France, The USA, Canada and Germany- have all backed the UK’s allegations against the Russian state, and condemned Russia for its actions. The representative of the UK at the UN Security council called Russia ‘a rogue state’ and said that it was ‘out of control’. However, it leads one to wonder whether the actions of both countries were in their own self-interest of in the interest of international welfare and peace, and where that leaves UK-Russian relations. I believe that current UK- Russian relations are best explained by a realist paradigm, but still have strong elements of liberal IR theory.

To make an assertion as to whether current UK-Russian relations are best explained by a liberal or realist theory, one must look at the events that occurred that led to the shift in each respective country’s relations with the other. Assuming British intelligence is correct, Russia acted purely out of self-interest; the poisoning of an ‘ex-spy’ can only occur for a few reasons which all generally involve maintaining the security of their governing body or head of state. It is clear that whoever ordered the attempted murder was doing so in the interest of protecting the Russian state, and violated international peace agreements and law to do so, disregarding the laws set down by an international governing body- the UN- and placing itself as the body with the most authority over its own actions. This follow realist IR theory almost to the T: the nation state is the main actor in its international relations and the behaviour of the state in the international arena is in favour of maximal securing of its own interest. If Moscow was behind the attack, its timing ahead of Russia’s presidentialy  election is significant. It put Putin in a position where he was almost certain to win the March 18 vote (which he did in the end, although the sincerity and legality of the overall result is questionable…), but he definitely sent a message with his increasingly bellicose rhetoric aimed at the West as well as any domestic protesters, and reinforced Russia’s power and ability to hold a grudge...

The UK, on the other hand, having not responded at first, now seems to be acting in a liberalist manner- deferring authority to an international governing body and adhering to the rules of international interactions and attempting to maintain international peace. Having received backing from other world leaders, albeit western leaders, the UK is now trying to prevent the UK being forced into a conflict with Russia who are still adamantly refusing to admit fault. It is arguable that due to the fact that the attempted murder is a breach of Britain’s national security and due to the fact that it is the responsibility of the British government to ensure the safety of its own people, Britain has every right to act in its own self-interest in this instance. The UK and other (western) powers have imposed sanctions on Russia- acting not in the interest of their own nation-states but partially under the guidance of an international governing body or supranational state. The USA in particular, having placed the most significant sanctions against Russia, is acting in the interest of another nation state and in the thought of condemning Russia. However, it can be argued that The USA is acting to assert its own power and strength- both politically and economically. Furthermore, The USA’s actions could be interpreted as a direct challenge to Russia’s power, a showcase of the USA’s political sway and the dependency of the Russian economy on the USA and their trade agreements.

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