Labour Leadership Candidate Jeremy Corbyn's Stance on Russia in Spotlight After NATO Comments

Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn's comments during an interview on the state-run channel Russia Today have led to speculation the left-wing MP wants warmer relations with Russia.

Corbyn, whose anti-war and anti-austerity stance has triggered doubt about his mainstream appeal among more centrist Labour figures, overtook Andy Burnham as the frontrunner in the leadership race in July. A YouGov poll published in the Times newspaper on Monday put Corbyn on 53 percent, giving him a 32-point lead against his closest rival, Burnham. Meanwhile figures on the right of the party such as former Prime Minister Tony Blair, former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell and Labour MP Tristram Hunt, who withdrew from the leadership race in May, have all warned that Corbyn's triumph would hinder Labour's chances at the next election.

With Corbyn now a firm favourite to lead the party with only a month until the September 10 deadline for ballots, his comments about national security and foreign policy during an extended interview with state-run Russian TV channel Russia Today last month were picked up by the Times and Telegraph newspapers on Tuesday.

"What is security?" Corbyn asked during a discussion about what his government would look like if he were prime minister. "Is security the ability to bomb, maim, kill, destroy, or is security the ability to get on with other people and have some kind of respectful existence with them?" Asked if he was ready to become the first Labour leader to oppose the U.S. foreign policy agenda since Harold Wilson, Corbyn replied: "Look, if you believe in peace, you believe in human rights, you believe in justice and you believe in a foreign policy that sets those at the heart, rather than to militarily dominate the world... There are people who won't agree with that but will understand the need for peace and justice."

Although Corbyn did not mention Russia specifically, he has previously stressed the need for greater diplomacy with Russia over the Ukraine conflict and for NATO to curb its expansion near Russia.

In February, Corbyn raised a parliamentary question to Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on his website, asking: "Does [Hammond] not think that there would be a better chance of reaching some kind of agreement with Russia if there was a clearer statement that NATO does not intend to expand into Ukraine, and that in return Russia should withdraw from its border regions, so that we do not build up to two huge armed forces meeting in central Europe yet again?"

Last week Corbyn dismissed the idea that he endorsed Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions but also called the admittance of the likes of Poland and Hungary to NATO "a mistake."

"I am not an admirer or supporter of Putin's foreign policy, or of Russian or anybody's else's expansion. But there has got to be some serious discussions about de-escalating the military crisis in central Europe," he told the Guardian. "NATO expansion and Russian expansion—one leads to the other, and one reflects the other."

"NATO was a Cold War institution," Corbyn added. "It has given itself quite extraordinary powers of insisting on two percent defence expenditure of all its member states."