Russia and Salisbury

Former BCiP member Robin Baker poses the question of the real motivation behind the attempted assassination in Salisbury: 

The attempted assassination in Salisbury of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, presumably on the orders of President Putin, is hardly surprising. Both Russian and Soviet autocrats have regarded the right to have their opponents killed off as one of the perquisites of their office since Tsarist times. Stalin had Trotsky, then living in Mexico, murdered in 1940. Few will have forgotten the assassination of Georgi Markov by a poison tipped umbrella in London in 1978 or the killing of Alexander Litvinenko by poisoning with radioactive polonium-210 in 2006. The number of deaths in the UK in recent years that can be attributed to Russian agents is thought to be as many as 14.

However the attempt on the lives of the Skrypals has a unique and disturbing feature: it was carried out in a way that posed grave risks to other members of the local community, in fact by smearing the deadly nerve agent over the front door handle of Sergei Skripal’s house. Theresa May had come under much criticism over her reaction as Home Secretary for having tried to block investigations into the facts of the Litvinenko case on the grounds that they could endanger Anglo-Russian relations. It would seem that the method used on this occasion could have been designed to provoke a harsh reaction from the May government.

If it were so designed it was brilliantly successful, as was the reaction itself. May’s achievement not only through the steps taken by the British Government’s but in generating similar actions from friendly states, has been outstanding. Even Boris Johnson has been widely praised for his success as Foreign Secretary, something unprecedented in the life of this government. So Theresa May’s position as Prime Minister has been significantly strengthened. How does that impact on Putin?

Putin does not like the European Union. Russia does not wish to join nor would it be permitted to do so, the Russians see the post Warsaw pact adhesion of former allies to both NATO and to the EU as surrounding them and that they regard as a threat. So Putin perceives it as in his interest for the EU to be damaged.

The United Kingdom leaving the EU will certainly damage both the UK and the EU itself. This is now generally expected to happen. However it remains dependent on Theresa May winning the necessary parliamentary votes. That the Government is not confident of winning votes on Brexit in the House of Commons is shown by the fact that they have been avoiding them after their defeat by Dominic Grieve’s amendment to the Brexit Bill. That amendment means that MP’s will now have the right to vote on approving or rejecting the final terms of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Should they vote to reject them the Government still cannot leave the EU without parliamentary approval, so MPs would vote to approve leaving without a deal. It is far from certain that the Commons would support such an outcome.

Theresa May’s weak position has previously encouraged Conservative MPs to vote against her. The strengthening of her position following the Salisbury attack may well make that less probable.

The question in my mind is whether that is what Putin wanted all along?

Robin Baker

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