Let’s talk about this Russian spy and his daughter who have taken ill in Salisbury:
The government’s emergency committee Cobra is to be updated on the police probe into the suspected poisoning of a former Russian double agent.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have spent a third night in a critical condition in hospital after being found unconscious in Salisbury.
Scientists at the UK’s military research facility at Porton Down are examining an “unknown substance”.
Met Police counter terrorism officers have extended cordons in the city.
I assume the Met Police are there because local plod lacks the competence to handle such a case. So ultimately we now have diversity-hire Cressida Dick in charge of the investigation. If I were a Russian holed up in a potting shed on a Salisbury allotment with an empty syringe in my bag, I’d breathe a sigh of relief.
Mr Skripal and his daughter were found slumped and unconscious on a bench outside the Maltings shopping centre on Sunday afternoon.
The two victims should be grateful they didn’t live in Glasgow. Would anyone have noticed?
Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, Mr Johnson said: “Honourable members will note the echoes of the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
“I say to governments around the world that no attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go unsanctioned or unpunished.”
What sanctions or punishments resulted from Litvinenko’s murder? And are double-agents really innocent? Was Kim Philby?
Okay, let’s talk more seriously. Firstly, this is relevant:
Tony Brenton, the former British ambassador to Russia, suggested that Mr Skripal would have had many enemies – including many former colleagues
He said: “The fact that he blew a whole range of Russian agents, there may be personal animosities there.
“In most Russians’ minds he would be categorised as a traitor. There are people there who would be delighted to see him dead.”
Russia is a dangerous place with no shortage of murderous psychopaths. If somebody gets murdered, there could be several reasons for it. If the deceased happens to be involved in questionable activities, e.g. shady business deals or spying, their list of enemies will be long indeed. Similarly, journalists whose work exposes corruption and malfeasance in Russia will also make a lot of enemies, many of whom will want them dead. In short, a Russian oligarch, spy, or journalist turning up dead does not in itself imply Putin ordered the murder.
Now it may be that Putin is happy with the outcome, but that doesn’t mean it was his doing. It is an article of faith among lefties that the CIA was behind the 1973 coup in Chile that ousted Salvador Allende and brought Augusto Pinochet to power. There is absolutely no evidence of this, and enough evidence showing the American government was somewhat surprised by the developments in Santiago, but lefties simply point to previous American interference in Chile and the undeniable fact that the US would have been quite pleased with the outcome as proof of their involvement. Unfortunately, that is not how historical claims are adjudicated and nor are criminal matters. If we are going to accuse Putin of ordering a hit on a journalist or spy, we need to at least acknowledge that he may well have had nothing to do with it. A lot of commentary in the western press doesn’t do this, and openly states that Putin murders journalists. They then, often in the same paragraph, complain about fake news coming from Russia.
That’s not to say Putin is innocent. Under the conditions of his rule, life for journalists has been made very dangerous indeed, and this is appalling. He certainly bears much responsibility for opposition politicians and journalists being killed in broad daylight, as Boris Nemtsov was, and the standard practice of stitching up a couple of young Chechens each time is happening on his watch. He has also created the conditions under which the words “who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” get interpreted in a manner in keeping with English historical standards. He may not even need to utter them: an ambitious soul might decide to do Putin a favour by knocking someone off before he’s passed any remarks. In a feudal system such as Putin’s Russia, doing the king an unsolicited favour might reap substantial rewards.
So Putin has a lot to answer for, but that doesn’t mean we’re sure he’s tried to kill this guy and his daughter in Salisbury. There are simply too many possibilities, and we need to be sure before saying something daft. Thankfully, someone understands this:
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “This investigation is at the early stages and any speculation is unhelpful…
Indeed, but perhaps he should have had a word with Boris Johnson:
The UK would respond “robustly” to any evidence of Russian involvement in the collapse of former spy Sergei Skripal, Boris Johnson has said.
The foreign secretary said he was not pointing fingers at this stage, but described Russia as “a malign and disruptive force”.
Is this helpful? This is even more stupid:
The Russian state has denied responsibility for his poisoning, but author of “Spycraft Rebooted”, Edward Lucas, claimed on the BBC the attack was an “act of war” if Russia was found to be behind the attack.
He said: “If Russia is behind it then it means they are taking this to a whole new level, it is in effect a declaration of war from the Russians to bump off someone like that – if they did it.
Supposing Putin calls up Theresa May this morning and says yup, it was me. Are we going to go to war with Russia? No, we’re not. We’ll piss and moan and kick some diplomats out, and go back to doing nothing. I remember when a Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, almost certainly by Russian-backed militias operating hand-in-glove with Russian forces. Everyone fell over themselves to avoid having to actually do anything, probably at the behest of the Germans for whom commercial interests in Russia are worth far more than a few hundred dead passengers. At the very worst, there will be calls for sanctions which the EU won’t support. So save the tough-talk, nobody believes you.
But the west has a far larger problem here. Russia has been held up as the bogeyman ever since America’s Democrats couldn’t accept the fact that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election because she was an appalling candidate. Nowadays, whenever a vote threatens to go against the interests of the ruling classes, they accuse the Russian government of interference without offering any evidence other than vague reports of “Russian bots” operating with a $15k budget targeting Facebook users with unhelpful stories. This lame excuse was rolled out to explain the establishment’s humiliating defeat over Brexit, it was preemptively deployed when Macron losing to Le Pen was still a theoretical possibility, and Samantha Power – Obama’s ambassador to the UN – is now accusing Russia of throwing the Italian election. Whenever something doesn’t go the way of the ruling classes in the west these days, prominent figures brazenly accuse Putin of interference. It is irresponsible in the extreme, not only because it damages relations with Russia for no good purpose and encourages ludicrous calls for extremely harmful retaliatory measures, but it weakens their position when something happens for real.
This is a classic case of the boy crying wolf once too often. If high-ranking politicians are accusing Putin of nefarious deeds on a daily basis, each time sounding increasingly deranged, why should anyone care when he’s charged with poisoning a spy in Salisbury? And why should the Russians care? Mueller’s investigation into supposed Russian interference in the US presidential election has been running for well over a year, and nothing of any substance has been found, yet the cacophony has only gotten louder. An act of war, says Ed Lucas? Well, he’s a bit late to that particular party:
— Ben White (@morningmoneyben) February 18, 2018
Why should we expect Russia to behave honourably in this poisonous political environment? Even if Putin personally ordered the hit on Skripal, the British authorities are never going to find out, let alone gather enough evidence to do anything other than ratchet up the existing hysteria. Will anyone even notice?
Finally, I’ve heard several remarks over the past day or two to the effect that Putin, and Russians generally, never forget those who cross them and hold grudges. Well, maybe that’s true but I don’t see why this should necessarily be a bad thing. Consider our own politicians, for example, many of whom seem to have forgotten that the IRA were murderous thugs who killed and maimed innocent British citizens on our own soil. Our memories are so short that the man who showed solidarity with these terrorists and invited them to parliament is now the leader of the opposition, and his past dalliances with groups openly hostile to Britain are airily dismissed with a wave of the hand. And do you think anyone in Moscow is advocating giving social housing to returning ISIS fighters? The question ought not to be why Russia holds grudges and kills traitors, but why we are so forgiving of those in our own ranks.