by Frank Schnittger
Fri Mar 16th, 2018 at 12:24:33 AM EST
Oui has written an interesting account of the Novichok story here. I am always wary of encroaching onto a political story where there are so few disinterested actors, reliable sources, and so much scope for disinformation. You are either a specialist with inside information, or a potential dupe. The topic is ripe for every conspiracy theorist in town, and yet it is a troubling story with potentially grave political implications for us all.
To begin with, it seems a strange coincidence that the Salisbury attack took place only eight miles away from the UK Chemical weapons research institute at Porton Down. Presumably some workers there would have access to nerve agents. It raises the possibility of an accidental exposure, or perhaps an attempt to sell the material for private gain gone wrong, although it is surely not coincidental that the primary victims were a Russian double agent and his daughter.
In the absence of conclusive evidence, one also has to ask Cui Bono:"who benefits"? A Russian scare is always a good diversionary tactic for a Conservative government in trouble. Putin's ascendency appears to be maintained, in part, by a Russia against the West narrative, especially at election time.
Deterring future defectors and whistle blowers could also be a useful outcome, although Irish Times former Russia Correspondent, Séamus Martin, suggests that it would have been counter-productive for Putin to have authorised the hit: It would have put future official spy swaps in jeopardy. It is difficult to see how this would have been a major policy consideration for Putin. Instead Séamus Martin points the finger of suspicion at various rival Russian Oligarchs who have taken refuge in London. Again he provides almost no evidence, but does note that some Oligarchs have become donors to the Conservative party...
But if you want to kill someone, why use such a complex and dangerous method? Why use a method almost guaranteed to generate public hysteria? Why use a method almost certain to play into new cold war narratives? And why did Putin's Russia act so insouciantly about it - almost treating it as a joke? Does Putin's Russia not care about winning a PR battle in the West? The Russian ambassador's media initiative in Ireland suggests otherwise.
It seems some powerful actors actively want a rapid deterioration in relations with Russia: The US military industrial complex humiliated by Afghanistan, Iraq, Crimea, Syria and N. Korea? An intelligence community humiliated by Trump and anxious to regain the initiative? Some rogue actors or agency which couldn't give a damn if it creates mayhem world wide? A Trump regime so incompetent and worried about Mueller's Russia investigation that only a re-emergent cold war atmosphere is sufficient to distract from it's own dubious dealings and almost total incompetence?
The UK has certainly been given an abject lesson in its own vulnerability and the dangers of allowing the Brexit rift with the EU27 to spill over into a disruption of military and intelligence alliances as well. Dependant on EU and world-wide support for any effective action against Russia, could hard line Brexit ideologues be feeling a little exposed? Is the UK policy of welcoming Russian Oligarch money and their retainers to London looking quite so clever now?
An Irish Judge has just thrown a spanner in the works of EU judicial cooperation and solidarity by refusing to extradite a Polish national back to Poland for trial for fear that essential safeguards against arbitrary arrest and prosecution have now been removed from the Polish judicial system. What happens if there is a similar divergence between UK and EU legal systems post Brexit with no ECJ service available to resolve the dispute?
Never before has it been more obvious that non-trade related elements of the EU are of critical importance to all - common judicial oversight in the form of the ECJ, intelligence sharing, European Arrest Warrant, police and security cooperation, a common external security and foreign policy architecture, PESCO, not to mention joint approaches to potential flashpoints in Gibraltar and N. Ireland.
Are hard core Brexiteers feeling a little exposed? Do they really want to put all their eggs in the basket of the rogue regime headed by Donald Trump and the many warring factions fighting for budget, influence and control there? It's beginning to look like a more and more dangerous world out there, and the glorious free trade utopia dreamt of Brexiteers more and more of a pipe dream. We will be lucky to escape the next decade without a major trade war, not to mention various military conflicts spilling over into western Europe itself.
Free trade cannot happen in a vacuum. It has only become so dominant in the post WWII world because there was a relatively stable world order with agreed WTO norms, many FTA's, mutual recognition of judicial systems, governments with an ideological commitment to free trade, and an absence of conflicts between major trading partners. Sanctions have disrupted trade with Apartheid S. Africa, Russia, N. Korea etc., but never between core members of the Western Alliance. In disrupting the architecture of the post WWII political world, Brexiteers are threatening the very basis of the free trade they claim to be so enamoured by.
That is one cake you cannot have and eat at the same time. Free trade depends on peace, trust, cooperation and mutual interests and obligations being observed. The EU has judicial and political mechanisms for ensuring those conditions are maintained. There is no guarantee that that will be the case between the UK and the EU27 in the future, and every possibility that they will diverge and the relationship between them spin out of control. The Novichok debacle is another indication of just how fragile that peace now is, and how dangerous the consequences of a breakdown in international order.
So who benefits from the Novichok scandal? The answer is, almost no one, except those who wish to sow the seeds of ever more distrust and conflict in the world. Those who can only cling onto power by increasing an irrational fear of the "other" in the general populace. Those who want to disrupt the fragile architecture of postwar peace in Europe as a means of increasing their own power base. As such any knee jerk reaction to the provocation may play into the wrong hands. Best to let the investigation run it's course and see if any real hard evidence of culpability emerges.