Cameron’s Very British Diplomacy: A Kremlin Nightmare

Written by Matt Wickham UCMC/HWAG analyst

When you start hitting a Kremlin nerve, you’ll likely see specific disinformation and defamation campaigns targeted at your nation’s leading politicians. Throughout the full-scale war there have been many. Arguably, the nation depicted in Russian propaganda circles as the number one enemy in Europe is none other than the UK. 

As part of these campaigns against the UK, propagandists have issued numerous nuclear threats. One notable example – a theatrical news broadcast, depicting the destruction the UK would suffer if Russia’s nuclear underwater drone were to strike just northwest of the country, causing a radioactive wave capable of submerging the entire nation underwater. This threat, however, went fairly unnoticed by the British people and in no way altered the UK’s support for Ukraine. If anything, it helped strengthen it. 

Lessons Learned: Cameron is back

David Cameron, former UK Prime Minister (2010–2016), is back in the driver’s seat for the UK’s foreign policy and has hit the ground running, picking up where he left off in 2016. But this time, he seems to have learnt from his mistakes made during his premiership, when he believed “issues” with Russia could be resolved diplomatically.

During Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, Cameron took a leading role, criticising Russia for violating international law and the will of the Ukrainian people. During the annual speech of the Prime Minister in 2014, Russia’s invasion took a significant focus. Cameron warned that if Russia persisted in violating all norms of international law, its relationship with the rest of the world would drastically change—as we know now, this is all too true. 

Despite Cameron’s rhetoric of there needing to be “consequences” for Russia and being responsible for kicking it permanently from the then G8, now G7, he, like many Western leaders of the time, pursued a diplomatic resolution. Cameron was sceptical of military intervention—a decision he most probably regrets.

The Cameron Charm?

Cameron’s diplomatic mission began with a visit to the United States. His trip on April 10 was essentially a persuasion mission, with the goal of convincing influential members of the US Congress to finally approve Ukraine’s long-stalled aid package. The primary target of the foreign minister’s visit was Trump. The Brits knew it’s Trump, not Mike Johnson, the speaker of the house, calling the shots in the Republican party.

The visit didn’t go unnoticed by Russian propaganda. As is normal practise, disinformation campaigns were launched. Johnson’s refusal to meet Cameron due to an apparent “lack of time in his schedule” was falsely portrayed as the US-UK’s longstanding special relationship coming to an end, the UK having no influence on global discourse, and a personal failure of Cameron’s.

“Such a slap in the face for the British Foreign Minister says only one thing – it is unlikely that his PR trip to the USA will be crowned with any success”

– a message spread throughout propaganda channels.

Three days after Cameron’s meeting with Trump on April 10, Trump meets with Johnson at the White House, where he first indicates he does not oppose aid to Ukraine. Five days later, Johnson declares his sudden desire to be “on the right side of history” in the biggest U-turn of 2024 so far. And on April 21, the United States Congress approves Ukrainian aid following months of deliberate opposition.

And so, observing the developments in the days and weeks following Cameron’s visit, it’s reasonable to conclude that the UK’s diplomacy has once again been instrumental in this war. The UK continues its diplomatic mission to give Ukrainian allies the very British polite shove they need to overcome political hurdles, whether artificially constructed for the sake of party politics or driven by escalating fears, to deliver essential aid to Ukraine.

UK’s Domino Effect

On May 3, in an unannounced visit to the Ukrainian capital, Cameron met with President Zelensky, telling of the UK’s commitment to provide £3 billion to Kyiv for “as long as it takes” to win.

Along with the visit, the British embassy in Ukraine announced ongoing negotiations on a 100-year partnership across the entire spectrum of relations, from trade, security, and defence to science and technology. And to pack another punch to the Kremlin’s facade of escalation, Cameron confirmed that Ukraine has the right to strike Russia using British weapons—the first such kind of statement made by a UK government official.

A “Very English Murder

Two hours after Cameron’s statement was published, Reuters made the unusual move of temporarily removing the article, citing a “pending review of certain details.” Several reasonable factors could have contributed to this decision, yet Russian propaganda used it to portray the UK as “authoritarian,” having complete control over media in the UK. Maria Zakharova, as usual, was first to lead the charge against the British and the “Anglosaxon” world.

“Right before our eyes, a ‘very English murder’ is unfolding,” Zakharova declared. But the backlash that this statement sparked forced London to retract and sacrifice Reuters. […]The fact of overt equilibrium on the verge of censorship has not gone unnoticed.” 

In Russia, news stories undergo extensive vetting, and unfavourable information may never even reach the public eye. This narrative that the redaction of the article is “telling” of the West’s censorship is aimed at deflecting attention from Russia’s own restrictions on press freedom and portraying Russia as a victim of Western hypocrisy. As a reminder, in April 2024 propagandist and colleague of Zakharova, Skabeyeva, admitted that Russia is no longer interested in the truth but manipulating it to control interpretation. Just keep that in mind…

Cameron’s recent support for Ukraine’s right to strike Russian territory signals a notable shift from previous hesitations and is crucial as Russia initiates new attacks on Kharkiv’s borders. The UK’s stance could once again act as the catalyst for broader international support, potentially influencing Washington’s approach, and positive signs in this regard have already begun. 

While the UK may currently lack the military capabilities to equip Ukraine with the weaponry it so desperately needs, its diplomatic influence and immunity to propaganda threats present a significant factor in reshaping international responses to Russian aggression. The attention it has received in state propaganda over the last few weeks is yet only more confirmation of its success.