At the time of writing, this is breaking news:
Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, Theresa May has told MPs.
The PM said it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack.
The Foreign Office summoned Russia’s ambassador to provide an explanation.
Mrs May said if there is no “credible response” by the end of Tuesday, the UK would conclude there has been an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.
The chemical used in the attack, the PM said, has been identified as one of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.
Mrs May said: “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
I’d say she’s got the two options narrowed down correctly. She’s also well within her rights to summon the Russian ambassador and demand an explanation. It’s going to be interesting what the Russians say: this isn’t something they can just fob off in their usual manner.
My guess is the latter of the two scenarios is the more likely. I simply can’t think of a credible theory that would have the Russian government trying to knock off this Skirpal chap at all, let alone using a nerve agent which points the finger straight at them, and then botching the job. So I think there are rogue elements in Russia, quite possibly hostile to Putin and much more hardline than he, who have access to this agent and firstly bear a grudge against Skirpal for his treachery, but who also want to ensure there is no improvement in relations between Russia and the west. The Russian economy is not in good shape; perhaps Putin – or one of his advisers – has been murmuring about concessions over Crimea in return for an easing of sanctions, or backing down in some other manner. Okay, the Crimea one is unlikely: your average Russian is pretty committed to keeping hold of Crimea, far more than they care about Syria for example. But something along these lines is at least a believable scenario, albeit a rather frightening one.
However, if the Russians have rogue elements of their security forces running amok, don’t expect Putin to admit it. For someone in Putin’s position to publicly concede he’s lost control in some manner would be suicide. Here’s a sobering thought though, probably not one entertained by those demanding Britain (and America) takes action against Putin: supposing he’s replaced by someone worse, someone who didn’t think much about knocking off former spies with nerve agents in a Salisbury pub? That’s not to say we shouldn’t take action, but we need to think through the consequences. In this regard, I think we can safely ignore anything most of the media has to say over the coming days, as well as Corbyn and his idiotic shadow cabinet.
A lot of people are already demanding Trump says something in support of Britain over this issue, but I’m interested to hear what the EU and European leaders say. Which way will Germany jump, especially if further sanctions are mooted? I’m half-expecting Merkel to mumble a bit before doing whatever is good for Siemens at al, with the rest of the EU falling in behind her. Probably the only ones who will object are the Baltic States, but it’s high time they learned when it comes to the EU and Russia, they’re on their own – just like Britain.