The leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, called for a “de-escalation” of tensions between NATO and Russia, adding in a BBC interview on Thursday: “I want to see a de-militarisation of the border between them.” Along with the U.S., the UK has been rapidly building up its military presence in the Baltic region, including states which border Russia, and is now about to send another 800 troops to Estonia, 500 of which will be permanently based.
In response, Russia has moved its own troops within its country near those borders, causing serious military tensions to rise among multiple nuclear-armed powers. Throughout 2016, the Russian and U.S. militaries have engaged in increasingly provocative and aggressive maneuvers against one another. This week, the U.S. began deploying 4,000 troops to Poland, “the biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the cold war.”
t was in this context that Corbyn said it is “unfortunate that troops have gone up to the border on both sides,” adding that “he wanted to see better relations between Russia, NATO and the EU.” The Labour leader explained that while Russia has engaged in serious human rights abuses both domestically and in Syria, there must be a “better relationships between both sides . . . there cannot be a return to a Cold War mentality.”
The response to Corbyn’s call for better relations and de-escalation of tensions with Moscow was swift and predictable. The armed forces minister for Britain’s right-wing government, Mike Penning, accused Corbyn of being a collaborator with the Kremlin:
“These comments suggest that the Labour leader would rather collaborate with Russian aggression than mutually support Britain’s Nato allies. As with Trident, everything Labour says and does shows that they cannot be trusted with Britain’s national security.”
This is the same propagandistic formulation that has been used for decades in the west to equate opposition to militarism with some form of disloyalty or treason: if you oppose military confrontation with a foreign adversary or advocate better relations with it, then you are accused of harboring secret sympathy and even support for those foreign leaders, and are often suspected of being an active “collaborator” with (or “stooge” for) them.
This lowly smear tactic was, of course, deployed over and over during the Cold War with regard to those who argued for improved relations or a reduction of conflict with Moscow, but it has been repeatedly used since then as well every time it comes time to confront a new Foreign Villain (those opposed to the invasion of Iraq were pro-Saddam, those who opposed intervention in Libya were Gaddafi apologists, those who objected to War on Terror programs are terrorist-sympathizers, etc. etc.).