The British government has never been more unpopular amongst the British people. It’s being crushed by problems entirely of its own making and undone by its own neglect and incompetence over a disastrously handled Brexit, crippling austerity measures, a general public still reeling from the horror of the Grenfell fire, and an ever-failing National Health Service, which, given that it is the fourth largest employer in Europe, is a deeply worrying and resonant issue.
In light of this, the response by British diplomat Mr. Stuart Gill OBE in his OpED to the Sunday Times of Malta, where he asserts that, “Today, only Russia combines a record of state-sponsored assassinations with an avowed motive for targeting Sergei Skripal – and a history of producing ‘Novochok’ agents,” reads like another desperate repetition of the falsehoods and insults towards Russia issued by Theresa May’s lame duck Government. (Note that the inventor of Novochok moved to the US over twenty years ago.)
Mr. Gill’s remark is just one of numerous outrageous and childish insults currently bandied around. Outbursts from UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and the inexperienced Minister of Defence, Gavin Williamson -- such as Russia should, “Shut up and go away” or “Putin is like Hitler” and “Russia probably did it” -- have been unprofessional, to say the very least, not to mention an offence to Russians of today and their relatives who died in the tens of millions fighting Hitler and the Nazis in WWII.
But word on British streets suggests something different afoot, with many members of the public stating that they have serious reservations about the veracity of their government’s statements. Not just the public, but professionals and academics from all over the world have been clear that they think it’s nonsense.
Dave Collum, Professor of Organic Chemistry at Cornell University has been very outspoken on social media in response to the ill-founded assertions that "only" Russia could have manufactured Novochok. He reiterated on Twitter on 27th March:
I will say it again: Anybody who tells you this nerve agent must have come from Russia is a liar -- a complete and utter liar. They are simple compounds….They are inherently simple, albeit dangerous molecules to make. Nothing I know tracks it to Russia. Certainly not claims that it somehow requires unique military technology. It is simple organic chemistry.The British police as well as the military scientists engaged in the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons at Porton Down, both state the investigation will take weeks, maybe months, before a formal conclusion can be drawn.
Aside from the knowledge that the nerve agent was "of a type manufactured by Russia," which is vague at best, let’s review some of the inconsistencies.
Scores of doctors, paramedics, firemen and policeman were at the four scenes -- the park bench, where the Skripal father and daughter were found, the restaurant where they had recently eaten, the car that Mr. Skripal’s daughter had driven, and at their home -- yet only one other, a policeman, DS Bailey, was said to have ingested this military grade deadly poison. He made a full recovery after only a few weeks.
We know the hospital in Salisbury stated categorically that no one, other than the three people in question, in close proximity to this alleged poison was treated for any symptoms, yet we were told that Novochok is ten times deadlier than any poison ever produced. So how is it that this military grade poison, designed to kill, not merely incapacitate, and supposedly exposed over a wide area, didn’t kill anybody, including the people it was intended for?
In consideration of the above, it seems the British Government’s rush to judgement within hours of the event was unwarranted.
The rush by many countries, including America, to expel Russian diplomats is a relatively mild reaction caused by the maximum weight the UK can muster, but I predict this will end with their reinstatement in the near future.
Sir Tony Brenton, an experienced British diplomat who was the UK’s Ambassador in Moscow in the aftermath of the Alexander Litvinenko poisoning, gave a restrained but emphatic and reasonable response. He said, “Obviously we have to react robustly and firmly to deal with the Skripal outrage, but at some point we are going to have to get back to doing business with Russia.” He added that while he supported the actions taken by the Government, he warned that ministers' language had been "unnecessarily virulent." This virulence was echoed in Stuart Gill’s Malta OpEd.
Despite the heavyweight diplomatic manoeuvring against Russia, Sir Tony importantly observed, “It seems to me that Gavin Williamson and Boris Johnson are dangerously close to burning those bridges.”
What also might surprise many people worldwide is the opinion of ordinary Russians and their actual reaction to these accusations from Britain. Even the astonishing American appointment of extreme neocon John Bolton by Trump.
Russia’s position was best explained by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a question and answer session with the media in Hanoi on Friday, March 23rd 2018, where he said:
The British are running around the world, demanding that their partners follow their lead. No facts have been produced, which leads us to think that it is a real provocation.... The recent appointment of Mr. John Bolton to the position of US National Security Advisor is also an interesting one, and he is certainly a tough diplomat and politician. But he is clearly a professional who will pursue the policies outlined by President Trump. Despite everything, Trump’s policy, which he reiterated the other day in his conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is to return relations with Russia to normal and start cooperating in order to resolve issues of common concern to both countries.”During Trump’s congratulatory call to Putin on his successful presidential re-election, the two men agreed to meet. This fact has not been publicized by mainstream media.
Someone should inform the incompetent and rather isolated Conservative British Government that they are clearly out of step when it comes to the state of US relations with Russia, as I believe a looming rapprochement between the Trump and Putin Administrations may be in the works.
Richard Galustian is a British political and security commentator, based for 45 years in MENA countries, now operating between North Africa and Malta.