Daily Telegraph: New UK foreign secretary under no illusions about Russia

While he was prime minister, Britain's new foreign secretary, David Cameron had met Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
While he was prime minister, Britain's new foreign secretary, David Cameron had met Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Source: SCANPIX/AFP/FRANCK FIFE

Estonia's key ally the United Kingdom has a new foreign minister, properly speaking a new foreign secretary, in the form of former prime minister David Cameron, and British broadsheet The Daily Telegraph took the opportunity to reflect on the new minister's foreign policy in respect of Russia, then and now.

David Cameron, now Lord Cameron after being created a life peer by King Charles III on the same day he was announced new foreign secretary, was in office as British prime minister 2010 to 2016.

This was a key period in deteriorating relations with Russia, and Cameron oversaw the beginning of a military commitment to Estonia which has to date culminated in it now being the U.K.'s largest single military deployment on the land, with significant contributions made at sea and in the air too.

Cameron committed 500 British troops to Estonia by 2016 as well as placing 3,000 on an increased level of alertness as part of a rapid-response unit vectored on this region, presaging the British-led enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup as it was first known when becoming a reality in early 2017, and the Agile Task Force which was deployed to Estonia last year.

This in turn has evolved into a British Army brigade being placed within an Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) division – most of the personnel are not deployed to Estonia but are on high readiness – a division whose command structure has British Army officers embedded within it.

Back in 2016, The Telegraph reports, Cameron said the troop deployments demonstrated the U.K. would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with its allies in the face of Russian aggression, though at the time the door had not been entirely closed to dialogue with Moscow at governmental level.

This in fact led to criticism of too soft of a line on Russia from some quarters; "I don't think Western leaders took seriously enough the threat to western security when Russia annexed Crimea," Lord Dannat,  Chief of the General Staff from 2006 to 2009 said, according to The Telegraph.

"We did quite a lot, we began a process whereby we were helping to increase Ukraine's capability but could we have done more with hindsight? Probably yes," Lord Dannat went on.

At the same time, in a recent interview, the new British foreign secretary said he "didn't think there was any naivety about Putin."

"We knew he was deeply antipathetic to our interests and values. He could never be a partner."

The pair met face-to-face back in 2013, prior to the annexation of Crimea the following year, at a G8 summit in Northern Ireland, though, The Telegraph reports, the Russian leader did not join Cameron for an early morning dip despite much being made of Putin being a cold water swimming aficionado.

More seriously, Cameron warned of "further consequences" at that time if Moscow tried to legitimize any attempt by Crimea to break away from Ukraine, which is indeed what happened with the sham referendum in 2014.

While in office, Cameron also suspended contact between ministers and their Russian counterparts, and in fact clashed with the more appeasement-minded Angela Merkel of Germany, following the annexation becoming a reality.

Nonetheless, the full-scale invasion of 2022 has led some to question whether the collective West did enough to deter Putin over Ukraine in the years Cameron was in office.

In any event, U.K. armed forces deployment to Ukraine itself began under Cameron's watch as prime minister, with around 100 British Armed Forces personnel available at any one time to help train on a range of key battle basic infantry and medic skills, again presaging the much greater degree of involvement with and training of Ukrainian troops by the British military since the February 2022 invasion.

The rest of The Telegraph piece deals with Cameron's much warmer approach to Sino-British relations and allegations over business links with China down the years, and his self-proclaimed "friend of Israel" status, back in the spotlight after the start of the current Israel-Hamas war.

Cameron's appointment as foreign secretary came as a complete surprise to many, including much of the media, when it was announced Monday morning.

The sacking of Suella Braverman as home secretary (cf. interior minister), ostensibly over an op-ed she wrote, in defiance of guidance from Downing Street, claiming police bias in the handling of pro-Palestine and other protests, led to a cabinet reshuffle.

This saw James Cleverly move from foreign office to home office, with Cameron appointed to fill that void.

Cameron's appointment is unusual, though permissible and not without precedent, in that he is not currently an elected official. Unlike in Estonia, where government ministers do not sit in the Riigikogu, cabinet ministers (as against junior ministers) in Britain usually sit in the legislature's lower chamber, the House of Commons.

The last foreign secretary not to have held a House of Commons seat was Lord Carrington, in office in that role 1979-1982 and subsequently a NATO secretary general.

Cameron stepped down as an MP in September 2016 in the wake of the Brexit referendum result – a result which had been followed by his resignation as prime minister a couple of months earlier.

He was created a life peer by the King on Monday, the first former prime minister to have been made a peer since Margaret Thatcher. This means he also now sits in the House of Lords, the legislature's upper chamber. Members of the House of Lords are quite often appointed to junior ministerial posts; indeed Lord Cameron, whose full title is yet to be decided, was appointed in order for him to take up his new post.

Most of Britain's foreign and defense secretaries, not to mention their prime ministers, have been on official visits to Estonia in recent years.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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