Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who was appointed to the position by new UK Prime Minister Theresa May, has stirred much ire on the continent, both with his Brexit crusade and, earlier, with biting remarks about both personalities and policies.
His French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault, usually a soft-spoken official, lamented that Johnson “lied a lot to the British people” during the Brexit campaign and now “has his back against the wall,” while many others have mocked the man for his extraordinary manners and notorious gaffes.
Johnson, a former mayor of London, has a long history of making controversial remarks, some of which were directed at people whom he is likely to regularly deal with in his new capacity.
For instance, he has compared US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to a “sadistic nurse in a mental hospital” and described being mistaken with Clinton’s primary rival Donald Trump as “one of the worst moments” of a visit to New York. He also won a £1,000 prize for penning a rude poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for a contest in response to the Turkish leader’s efforts to prosecute a German comedian’s offensive poem.
In addition to his abrasive comments, Johnson has produced some policy statements that contradict the prevailing point of view of western diplomacy.
Here are a few examples:
1. Thank Russians for re-taking Palmyra from ISIS
In his regular column published in The Telegraph in March, Johnson wrote that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be a vile tyrant, but he deserves praise for taking the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State terror group [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], arguing that his opponents are worse and the capture of Palmyra by Syria with Russia’s help protects the UNESCO site’s rich archeological legacy from barbaric destruction.
“If Putin’s troops have helped winkle the maniacs from Palmyra, then (it pains me to admit) that is very much to the credit of the Russians. They have made the West look ineffective; and so now is the time for us to make amends, and to play to our strengths,” Johnson wrote, adding that Britain should send its archeologists to help in the restoration.
2. Join forces with Assad & Putin to get rid of ISIS jihadists
Johnson also questioned then-PM David Cameron’s assertion that some 70,000 “moderate” rebels in Syria were fighting Assad in Syria and, thus, worthy of Britain’s aid.
“We have the estimated 70,000 of the Free Syrian Army (and many other groups and grouplets); but those numbers may be exaggerated, and they may include some jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al-Qaida,” he wrote.
The solution – to seek alliance “with the devil,” that is Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“This is the time to set aside our Cold War mindset. It is just not true that whatever is good for Putin must automatically be bad for the West. We both have a clear and concrete objective – to remove the threat from ISIL. Everything else is secondary,” he said.
3. Don’t muddle EU & NATO
Johnson appears to take the same practical approach to other issues related to Russia, including the biggest stumbling block – NATO.
“If you want an example of EU foreign policy making on the hoof, and the EU’s pretensions to running a defense policy that have caused real trouble, then look at what has happened in Ukraine. I think it is very, very important that we don’t muddle up the role of the EU with the role of NATO,” Johnson said in a Q&A session after a pro-Leave speech in May.
Closer integration of NATO and the EU, which was designated as one of the alliance’s strategic goals this month at a summit in Warsaw, is one of the biggest concerns for Russia. It sees NATO as a military threat and views the EU’s attempt to integrate countries like Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova with suspicion, believing it to be an indirect route to NATO expansion.
Britain’s relations with Russia have been frosty, to say the least, for a decade. Johnson could bring a touch of realpolitik into the fray, according to the head of the Russian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Hopefully he won’t have the painful anti-Russian complexes of his predecessor [Philip Hammond],” Aleksey Pushkov tweeted after news of Johnson’s appointment broke.