A Russian father, former double spy convicted in Russia and exchanged by Britain for other spies, and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury. Preliminary assessment suggests a nerve gas agent. The government has jumped to accuse Russia and in particular Putin of ordering this assassination attempt. The word “war” has been repeated in many speeches from PM May and other members of her government.

Jeremy Corbyn has appealed for calm and to involve international bodies that deal with chemical warfare in order to test the substance properly as well as establishing controls on the money laundering activities of Russian oligarchs and mafias operating in the UK rather than a simple diplomatic tit-for-tat. Unsurprisingly this has caused a deluge of criticism from the media (the BBC photoshoped his picture with a Russian style hat and the Kremlin as backdrop) and some within his own party, who have been waiting for an opportunity to get the knives out after being silenced by Corbyn’s enormous popularity.

Writing for the Guardian  Corbyn said:

“There can be no one in Britain who is not outraged by the appalling attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury last week. The use of military nerve agents on the streets of Britain is barbaric and beyond reckless. This horrific event demands first of all the most thorough and painstaking criminal investigation, conducted by our police and security services. They have a right to expect full support in their work, just as the public should also be able to expect calm heads and a measured response from their political leaders. To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.” …… “That means working through the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to reduce the threat from these horrific weapons, including if necessary an investigation by chemical weapons inspectors into the distribution of Soviet-era weapons.”… “There can and should be the basis for a common political response to this crime. But in my years in parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times. Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion. There was overwhelming bipartisan support for attacking Libya, but it proved to be wrong. A universal repugnance at the 9/11 attacks led to a war on Afghanistan that continues to this day, while terrorism has spread across the globe.”

It is no secret that with the collapse of the Soviet Union control over chemical weapons was lost in the ensuing chaos, as well as fissile material. Nobody can guarantee that such dangerous materials have not fallen (for profit) into the hands of rogue elements: “In September of 1993 as The Irish Times Moscow correspondent I obtained a list of chemical and biological weapons, including Novichok, that were being produced by Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union. I brought these documents to the recognised expert at the time Dr Thomas Stock of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Dr Stock’s reaction was that Russia immediately needed western financial help to stop Novichok and other chemical and biological agents being exported illegally by criminal elements. Western help arrived eventually but was it too late. The countries of the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltic nations, were in chaos at the time.” The Irish Times

For his part, former Uzbekistan Ambassador Craig Murray writes in his website:

“I have now received confirmation from a well placed FCO source that Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve agent as being of Russian manufacture, and have been resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so. Porton Down would only sign up to the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” after a rather difficult meeting where this was agreed as a compromise formulation. The Russians were allegedly researching, in the “Novichok” programme a generation of nerve agents which could be produced from commercially available precursors such as insecticides and fertilisers. This substance is a “novichok” in that sense. It is of that type. Just as I am typing on a laptop of a type developed by the United States, though this one was made in China.

“To anybody with a Whitehall background this has been obvious for several days. The government has never said the nerve agent was made in Russia, or that it can only be made in Russia. The exact formulation “of a type developed by Russia” was used by Theresa May in parliament, used by the UK at the UN Security Council, used by Boris Johnson on the BBC yesterday and, most tellingly of all, “of a type developed by Russia” is the precise phrase used in the joint communique issued by the UK, USA, France and Germany yesterday:
“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.

When the same extremely careful phrasing is never deviated from, you know it is the result of a very delicate Whitehall compromise. My FCO source, like me, remembers the extreme pressure put on FCO staff and other civil servants to sign off the dirty dossier on Iraqi WMD, some of which pressure I recount in my memoir Murder in Samarkand. She volunteered the comparison to what is happening now, particularly at Porton Down, with no prompting from me.”

Why ”War”

The use of the word “war” in this situation is disingenuous. A war with Russia is unimaginable. There would be nothing left, on either side. But the word serves a number of purposes:

  • It distracts from Brexit, the destruction of the NHS, education and imposes on the Conservative party a unity that is far from real.
  • In war dissent is treason.
  • It creates an opportunity to try to destroy the image of Jeremy Corbyn who is ahead in the polls. They can count on Corbyn trying to calm things down and avoid war. He has always done it. In Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. He was always right, but every time the media presented his views as going against British interests, even if he was proven right later, which went unacknowledged.
  • War, the UK being a member of NATO,  demands uncritical support from other members.
  • Sabre rattling is a proven way to present individuals in government a tough and leader-like, often a good election strategy. (Local government elections in May).
  • Hostilities with Russia can guarantee a justification for the renewal of Trident nuclear system, which costing in excess of £100bn, is absurd in the face of other much more urgent needs such as Health, Education, Housing and Welfare. Not to mention that nuclear weapons are useless, immoral and illegal and they should be done away with completely. Unsurprisingly the UK has not agreed to the UN treaty to abolish them.

No doubt the rhetoric will grow and accusations, founded or not, will continue to lead into the path of a new Cold War, because there is nothing like having an enemy without to hold on to power within.