Barely a fortnight after Russian troops crossed into Georgian territory last month, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was in Ukraine to show solidarity with one more worried neighbor. He was unsparing in his comments: the sight of Russian tanks in action stirred memories of the crushing of the Prague Spring 40 years earlier, he said in Kiev. Russia needed to "change course" if it wanted "respect and influence." It was time for the West to examine the "nature, depth and breadth" of relations with Moscow. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had a "big responsibility" to avoid starting "a new cold war."
To the Kremlin, such tough talk—the toughest, perhaps of any European leader—was an example of British hypocrisy. But if the Russians were listening, so too were important audiences back home and in Western capitals. After all, Miliband is more than another European foreign minister. At 43, he has been tipped as the likely successor to the beleaguered Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party, and possibly prime minister. And as Brown's fortunes fall, media rune-readers scan Miliband's every statement for evidence of his political thinking and capacities.