LONDON — Stung by a reported slight from a Russian official at the G-20 summit, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain abandoned diplomacy and opted for oratory Friday. In full theatrical flow, Cameron cited his country’s historic role in the fight against slavery and fascism, its famous inventions, and its artistic, literary, and even sporting, heritage.
Cameron’s tribute to Britain came in response to remarks attributed to President Vladimir V. Putin’s press secretary, Dmitri S. Peskov, who reportedly dismissed Britain as a “small island no one pays attention to.” Mr. Peskov later denied making the comment.
Britain and Russia have taken opposing views over military action against Syria, and relations between the two countries have been strained by the apparent killing of former KGB agent Alexander V. Litvinenko in London in 2007.
Cameron had an awkward time at the G-20 meeting, largely sidelined in discussions over military strikes against Syria after Parliament rejected the idea of British participation.
The move by Parliament came as a surprise and prompted soul-searching in Britain about its global role and the risk to Britain’s “special relationship” with Washington. The British press highlighted how President Obama was to meet with President François Hollande of France at the G-20 meeting but seemingly too busy to see Cameron one-on-one.
So, when the BBC reported the “small island” comments, Cameron’s office called on Russia for a clarification.
Rather than letting the matter rest after Peskov’s denial, Cameron went on the offensive. He told British reporters Friday that while Britain may be a small island, he “would challenge anyone to find a country with a prouder history, a bigger heart, or greater resilience. Britain is an island that has helped to clear the European continent of fascism and was resolute in doing that throughout the Second World War,” he said, according to British media reports.
“Britain is an island that helped to abolish slavery, that has invented most of the things worth inventing, including every sport currently played around the world, that still today is responsible for art, literature, and music that delights the entire world,” he added.