At a set-piece press conference in London, Neil Basu, head of the London Met’s counter-terrorism police force, positively identified two Russian suspects in the case. He produced CCTV images of the two individuals along with their names and details of their movements from Russia to the UK and back again. He also alleged that according to a “working hypothesis” the suspects smuggled the Novichok substance used in the attempt on the lives of former Russia intelligence office and British spy Sergei Skripal, and daughter Yulia, into the country with them from Russia.
The rocket fuel this very significant and very serious development adds to the already seething anti-Russia sentiment and feeling that dominates the minds of the British political and media establishment is self-evident. At a time of multiple crises involving Moscow and London – crises yet to be resolved around the conflict in Syria, tensions over Ukraine, the presence of NATO troops and military assets close to Russia’s western border, sanctions, etc. – it is extraordinarily worrying that relations between both countries have now plunged to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War.
That the Russian state is capable of carrying out an attack of this nature is not in doubt. All states are capable of carrying out such attacks, and all states, including Britain, have carried them out at various points in their history. But the timing of this particular attack is key, given that it took place just a few months prior to the start of the World Cup in Russia, and at a time when the Russian government was extending itself in attempting to repair relations with the West with a view to achieving normalization.
Then, too, the motive remains impossible to discern. Sergei Skripal had been living openly under his own name in Salisbury, England, where the attack took place, for some time, so clearly did not believe that he was in any danger.
The international damage to Russia’s reputation as a consequence of being behind such an attack is likewise not in any doubt.
These points are not, of course, made as infallible proof that the Russian government or intelligence was not responsible. But they are pertinent in of themselves, given the context.
Another point worth raising is the sheer crudity of two supposed Russian agents taking a direct flight to and from the UK to carry out the attack and travelling together both ways. Such amateurish planning is the stuff of your average Hollywood spy spoof movie rather anything you would associate with a serious intelligence agency.
Significantly, during his press conference and presentation, Mr Basu did not go as far as alleging Russian state involvement. Such restraint, however, has long been a foreign land where the prime minister is concerned.
In her statement to the Commons on this latest development, Theresa May wasted no time in unleashing a rhetorical artillery barrage against the Kremlin, buoyed by a feral chorus of MPs who almost to a man and woman had already embraced Russia as the officially designated enemy of all that is holy and good in the world.
Either the prime minister knows something that the head of the Met’s counter-terrorism police force does not, or we have entered an age when blaming Russia for everything is an unofficial requirement of the duties of high political office in Westminster.
To be fair to the prime minister though, she’s been blaming the Kremlin for this crime almost since the very day it took place, gleefully riding the wave of anti-Russia hysteria that had already been whipped up by a mainstream media whose denizens one James Connolly was once minded to describe as “The inkslingers of the jingo press.”
With her leadership mired in crisis over Brexit, and with her errant former foreign secretary and putative prime minister, Boris Johnson, currently breathing down her neck with a looming challenge to her leadership, for the prime minister the timing of this development could not, politically, be more convenient. For at such moments she is able to give free rein to the appearance of the kind of strong and robust leadership qualities that are, in truth, grievously absent.
Going forward, this will only add more grist to the mill of a neocon firmament whose very existence is predicated on maintaining Russia in the role of existential threat to Western civilization. A frog’s chorus of calls and demands for ever more stringent trade, financial and economic sanctions against Moscow will reach a crescendo, buttressed by an uptick in the deployment of troops and military assets to eastern Europe in a futile effort to intimidate and cow the Kremlin into accepting its prescribed status as a vassal of Washington and its allies.
Worryingly, in 2018 we have reached the stage that George Orwell described in his classic novel, 1984: “The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that no past or future agreement with him was possible.”
Western ideologues should take a moment to consider that Orwell wrote his classic work as a warning not a blueprint.
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