UK minister accuses Russia of MH17 downing & ‘testing’ NATO, Moscow says claims ‘baseless’

When British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon was asked to deliver a speech on ‘Russian resurgence’, he seized the opportunity to accuse Moscow of “annexing” Crimea, shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, and “testing” NATO. Russia calls the claims baseless.

Fallon's speech at St. Andrews University on Thursday began kindly enough, speaking about the UK’s “renewed interest in Russian scientific and artistic achievement.”

However, the talk quickly changed course, with Fallon changing the focus to Russia's so-called “military resurgence.”

Referring to the reunification of Crimea and Russia following a referendum in 2014, Fallon claimed the situation actually amounted to Russia illegally annexing the territory.

“Russia did not allow Ukraine to decide its own destiny like any other sovereign country,” he said. “Instead, under the guise of ambiguous and deniable instruments it annexed Crimea.”

Fallon’s anti-Russia rhetoric didn't stop there. He went on to cite an inquiry by the Dutch-led Joint-investigative Team (JIT) which claims the MH17 tragedy was caused by a “Russian-provided missile.” He said that despite the finding, Moscow continues to deny its role in the tragedy.

Fallon failed to mention, however, that there are numerous issues surrounding that report, including the fact that the Dutch apparently couldn’t read raw radar data provided by Russia, yet failed to ask Moscow for help to decode it. 

The discrepancies surrounding the inquiry have led to Major General Aleksandr Tazekhulakhov, the former deputy head of the Russian Army Air Defense, to accuse the Netherlands of trying to keep Moscow out of the investigation, likely in “yet another attempt to put the blame on Russia for something...” 

The next phase of Fallon's speech transitioned from Ukraine to Syria, in which he accused Russia of targeting the Syrian opposition in Aleppo “with little regard for innocent lives,” claiming that 80 percent of its strikes targeted non-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) targets.

However, Fallon seemed to conveniently forget that the US-led coalition in Syria – which includes the UK – just last month admitted to “unintentionally” killing at least 188 civilians in Syria and Iraq since 2014. 

And while Fallon accused Russia of targeting civilians in Aleppo, he failed to mention a hospital set up by Russia in the city, despite the facility being hailed by the World Health Organization (WHO) last month. 

“The WHO, same as the Syrian people – we’re very grateful to the Russians, the EMERCOM [Agency for Support and Coordination of Russian Participation in International Humanitarian Operations] gave a hospital to be used in the Jibreen [refugee] camp. The hospital provided by the Russian people has provided several hundred consultations and has been given by the Russian people to the Syrian people for the use by the central health authorities in Aleppo,” the WHO's Elizabeth Hoff told RT.

Any typical bashing of Russia by the UK wouldn't be complete without claims that Moscow is trying to “test” NATO, and Fallon didn't disappoint.

“Russia is clearly testing NATO and the West,” Fallon said, accusing Moscow of “seeking to expand its sphere of influence, destabilize countries, and weaken the alliance.”

“It is undermining national security for many allies and the international rules-based system,” he continued.

Fallon was apparently in no mood to present a balanced argument during his speech, failing to mention NATO’s build-up of troops near Russia’s borders, or Moscow’s concern that NATO is compromising its national security. 

The speech also included a healthy dose of the usual Western rhetoric, including allegations that Russia influenced the US presidential election by hacking into Democratic National Committee (DNC).

There was a touch of irony towards the end of Fallon’s speech, in which he said “we need to understand Russia better,” but then went on to accuse it of “reckless military activity” and “misinformation.”

“Russia could again become the partner the West always wished for...” he concluded.

However, based on Fallon's speech, it seems Russia will only be a ‘partner’ to the UK and the West if it panders to their every wish.

Moscow responded to Fallon's speech on Friday, calling his statements “baseless.”

“We express regret for this hostile stance of the minister. We are sure that such allegations are baseless,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, as quoted by Reuters.