© The Mirisch Corporation / United Artists
For what they’re worth, here are my thoughts on the attempted murder of Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on March 4th – a crime which involved the use of the deadly nerve agent Novichok, which the British government blamed on its counterpart in Moscow, and which has dominated the British news for the last fortnight.
Was it carried out on the orders of Vladimir Putin?
I’m inclined to think ‘probably’, but I’m still waiting on the absolute proof that clinches it. Novichok was developed by the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s and I suppose it’s conceivable that a quantity of it was procured by some private individual with an axe to grind against Skripal, who in Russia in 2006 was convicted of betraying undercover Russian agents to MI6.
And I suppose George Galloway has a point – there’s half-a-dozen words I never expected to write, seeing as I usually consider Galloway to be a festering furuncle of fedora-wearing foolishness – when he argued that, had he wanted to, Putin could easily have had both victims killed earlier; and it was illogical to attempt their murder on British soil now and run the risk of damaging Russia’s reputation just before it hosted the World Cup.
© The Belfast Telegraph
Galloway’s rebuttal makes sense… But I can still imagine Putin giving orders to take Skripal out in Britain. After all, he has past form in this sort of thing. And there are additional reasons that are unflattering for the current UK government. Putin probably regards modern-day Britain with such disdain that he figures it doesn’t matter if the British point an accusing finger at him. Estranged from Europe post-Brexit, and with a gibbering half-wit (and Putin admirer) in the White House, Britain 2018 is an international Johnny No Mates. Who cares what it says or thinks? Also, vast quantities of Russian money are swilling around London these days in things like real estate and shell companies. Such money talks, especially in an economy as fragile as Brexit Britain’s. The beleaguered Theresa May might symbolically expel a few Russian diplomats, but she isn’t going to do anything really drastic, like freeze the London assets of Russian oligarchs.
A portion of that Russian money has even ended up funding May’s own Conservative party – declared donations of £826,100 since July 2016 and some £3,000,000 since 2010. Laughably, Lubin Chernukhin, Russian banker and wife of Putin’s former deputy finance minister, once paid £160,000 at a Tory funding auction for the privilege of playing a game of tennis with Boris Johnson. I’ll repeat that. Somebody paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson. I’d find it more intellectually and aesthetically stimulating to stand a piss-stained old mattress on its end and spend half-a-hour lobbing tennis balls at that.
© Anita Aguilar / From tennis.com
Is Jeremy Corbin a Putin apologist?
No. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has described the attempted murder of the Skripals as ‘appalling’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘horrific’ and demanded that the Russian authorities be ‘held to account on the basis of the evidence’. He’s called out Putin’s Russia for ‘authoritarianism’, ‘abuse of human rights’ and ‘political and economic corruption’ too. But Corbyn also, reasonably enough, asked for patience until conclusive proof incriminating the Putin regime had been amassed: “To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.”
Obviously, Corbyn’s comments were never going to be fairly reported by Britain’s mostly right-wing mainstream media, who’ve been searching for a way to put the boot into him ever since his party performed better than expected in last year’s general election. CORBYN IS UNWORTHY TO BE PRIME MINISTER thundered the headline above a March 16th editorial in the increasingly unhinged Daily Telegraph, for instance. The Telegraph, though, is apparently happy to countenance as prime minister Ms. Chernukhin’s flaxen-haired tennis partner.
Is there a BBC conspiracy to smear Jeremy Corbyn?
For a time, the Skripal affair was almost overshadowed by the row over ‘Hatgate’. This erupted when the BBC news programme Newsnight took it upon itself to discuss Corbyn’s cautious approach against a studio backdrop that had projected onto it a mocked-up picture of the Labour Party leader standing before the Kremlin and wearing some suspiciously Russian-like headgear. Enraged left-wingers like columnist Owen Jones accused the BBC of trying to make Corbyn look like a ‘Kremlin stooge’, though the BBC has strenuously denied that this was the case. So: is this proof that the Beeb is the tool of the right-wing establishment, out to discredit and silence the left?
Well, I think the Newsnight backdrop picture was stupid and irresponsible, but it hardly means the BBC is a cesspit of Breitbart-esque right-wing evil. What I think has happened in the last few years is that the BBC’s news coverage has become rudderless and susceptible to drifting with certain tides – i.e. the narratives emanating from Britain’s right-wing press. The newspaper reviews shown on the BBC in the mornings, for instance, lead to the airing of a lot of right-wing gunk because such gunk is on the front pages of the right-wing tabloids. With the press setting the tone, no wonder its hostility towards Corbyn gets absorbed into the BBC news gestalt. So the Sun and the Daily Mail call him a Putin-worshipping lickspittle and the BBC unwittingly echoes the accusation.
Which is all a bit crap, considering how the BBC is a public service paid for by citizens whose beliefs cover a political spectrum, left-wing as well as centre and right-wing. The left end of that spectrum should be getting better value for its money.
How soon will this blow over?
It’ll blow over surprisingly fast, I suspect. With all that Russian dough in London, I’d be surprised if Theresa May’s government doesn’t try as soon as possible to draw a line and get back to business as usual with Big Bad Vlad and his oligarchs. Plus, with the British economy likely to be in a perilous state post-Brexit, I’m sure there’ll be pressure on them to let bygones be bygones and start signing some trade deals with Russia. (After all, look at Britain’s recent eagerness to do business with a regime as oppressive, warmongering, terrorism-exporting and generally hideous as Saudi Arabia.)
And while we’re on the topic…
Is Putin running our elections now?
Well, I’m sure Putin is delighted to see Trump pooping all over the White House like one of the Yahoos in Gulliver’s Travels, and Brexit consigning Britain’s reputation, influence and dignity to the bin; and when he can, he’s happy to stick an oar in to help both processes along. But I think it’s a mistake to blame everything on him. And it’s also a mistake, by the way, to make too much of the recent revelations about the data-mining / Facebook-pilfering company Cambridge Analytica and its dodgy roles in the Trump election campaign and the Leave EU referendum campaign.
It must be comforting for American and British liberals to have bogeymen like Putin and Cambridge Analytica to blame for their countries’ woes. But those bogeymen shouldn’t be allowed to obscure an unpalatable truth. Even without their baleful influence, an awful lot of people would have voted for Trump and Brexit anyway. Liberals in the US and UK need to come to terms with that unhappy fact – and then figure out what they’re going to do about it.
© Getty Images / From thetrumpet.com