The image in question, published in a Telegraph article on Friday, shows Johnson riding around in a Challenger main battle tank in full combat gear, including helmet and camo.
The foreign secretary did the photo op at a NATO base outside Tapa, Estonia, where a British Army contingent of over 800 troops is based, as part of the rotating NATO Battalion stationed in the country. This week, Johnson emphasized that the UK would remain a "reassuring presence" for its NATO allies in northern Europe and the Baltic against "Russian antagonism."
Known for its trolling of Western politicians and media who use fallacious arguments to play up the 'Russia is a threat' line, the Russian Embassy in the UK published a pithy commentary for Johnson on Twitter:
FM Lavrov doesn’t need to ride a tank to make his point. He’d rather rely on consistency of message and evolving context. pic.twitter.com/r5Dq7s2G61— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) 8 сентября 2017 г.
"FM Lavrov doesn't need to ride a tank to make his point," the Embassy quipped, referring to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "He'd rather rely on consistency of message and evolving context."
In the British context, Johnson was obviously going for the look of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she posed aboard a tank during a visit with British forces in Fallingbostel, West Germany in 1986, also meant to 'deter the Russians', incidentally.
Three decades later, as NATO has expanded eastward through the former East Germany, into Poland, Central and Southern Europe and the Baltic states and right up to Russia's borders, Johnson has decided to repeat the publicity stunt, with the message remaining the same.
Boris Johnson on manoeuvres in Estonia this morning. pic.twitter.com/kPkF8FZT2j— Damon Wake (@damonwake) 8 сентября 2017 г.
In the West, photo ops aboard tanks can be a risky venture. In 1988, US Democratic Party nominee for president Michael Dukakis took a ride in an M1 Abrams, hoping to shore up an image of being strong on defense. However, the Bush campaign took the footage and turned it into a series of sarcastic attack ads, seriously damaging Dukakis' credibility and contributing to his loss in the 1988 election.