Wednesday 14th March
It is rare that almost the whole House of Commons, and the Media are all in agreement. It is usually at times of grave crisis, when party Politics are pushed aside that Unity breaks out. The last time I can remember this (except for the death of Jo Cox, which did nothing to stop the Brexit landslide) was over the Iraq War – but even here there were a few siren voices, who turned out to be right as it happened. And even then, it had taken Blair and Co., weeks of bombarding us daily with dossiers and intelligence reports declaring how we had to stop Saddam, as he had Weapons of Mass Destruction – and was about to use them. It turned out that there were none, and yet almost the entire House of Commons and the Media were jubilant and jingoistic about the coming War.
I am, I can assure you, as appalled by the events in Salisbury as everyone else. But I ask two questions. One – what if we are wrong? And Two – will our response actually make Russia (if we are right) change course and stop this outrageous (if it is them) behaviour?
Well – you may say – it must be them. The nerve gas was first created in Russia, and they have form. True, but I detect a little too much haste and not enough circumspection, and not a little Political grandstanding in the Government’s ‘Strong’ reaction. Only a couple of days ago everyone was saying that we had to wait for the Police investigation to conclude before laying the blame. That is still ongoing, and to date (Wednesday p.m.) we have no suspect, or knowledge of how the agent was administered. There is, almost certainly, a Russian Connection. But we do not know much more. One possibility is some sort of suicide pact between Skripol and his daughter (only just flown in from Russia), however unlikely that may seem. It could even have been a third country involved. I am not trying to belittle the seriousness of the thing, nor am I an apologist for Russia. But in the Litvinenko case we waited until we knew pretty well for certain who had done it and how before acting. Why the sudden haste now? It is of course quite convenient to detract from the Government’s troubles to have an external threat – and they are making the most of it. This should have been handed to the OPCW (the body delegated to investigate all usage of chemical weapons) to identify and ask Russia for any information they might have. Okay, Russia may have stonewalled – especially if they are guilty, but the due process of law would have been followed.
And of course, expelling a few diplomats will be followed by some of ours being sent packing. Even further sanctions on some of Putin’s cronies won’t make a huge difference – they will simply move their money elsewhere, even if London is the best place to launder it.
The only real way to make Russia change is to talk with them, tie them into economic trade deals, encourage them to act more responsibly. None of that may work either – but shouting at them wont work at all. But, what do we do next? What if another Russian dies mysteriously? What if whoever killed Skripol kills someone else? Do we really want war with Russia? And, we know one other thing too – we cannot rely on America this time; not with Trump in the White House.