Nerve Gas Attack – the Phantom Menace
by Gwydion M. Williams
- Bring Me the Head of Vladimir Putin
- Bungled or a Frame-Up?
- Newcomer Nerve Gases
- Little Mrs May and the Dark Lord Putin.
- Western Resentment of Russian Choices
- May’s Demand for a Humble Russia
- Would You Arrest Smith & Weston?
A botched attack on an unimportant paid traitor of Russian origin is called a planned aggression by Putin.
Russia’s demand that Britain follow the standard and agreed rules for accusations about illegal use of nerve gas is treated as proof of guilt.
A demand for hard evidence and a reminder of the massive lying over the Iraq war is treated as weakness or treason by most of the British press.
(‘British’ in the sense that Britons are the customers. Most of the owners are not British. Almost all come from the top end of a tiny more-than-millionaire elite that has selfish reasons to prefer Tories to Labour.)
Most people ignore what I see as the most likely suspects – a whole slew of rich and criminal Russia oligarchs. Some of these are open foes of Putin: others might have ‘daggers in their smiles’. All of them would despise Skripal as a paid traitor, though it is odd that his daughter was also harmed. Any of them might have had personal reasons to wish to harm Skripal, who ended the careers of a lot of undercover Russian agents. Any of them might have wished to harm Putin: or alternatively to add to existing Western sanctions.
The West assumes that denial of trade is a hideous punishment: some Russians see it as a useful boost to home-grown industries. I’d assume that not many of those benefiting are murderously criminal – but it only needs one.
And it’s not that hard to make nerve gas.
No one blamed Russia for the Tokyo subway sarin attack back in 1995. That was at a time when Russia trusted the West, and followed its advice. A time when Russians saw their living standards fall, and hastily-privatised industries pass into the hands of fraudsters and violent criminals. A time when the West said Russia was doing everything right.
A little crackpot sect in Japan was soon found guilty. Aum Shinrikyo had just under 2000 members. Its main technical experts were a senior medical doctor and three men with degrees in physics. They had no actual chemists, though plenty of qualified chemists do get involved in criminality, mostly illicit drugs.
Given this, why is the nerve-gas poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal being called a crime that only Moscow could have committed?
And not everyone does this:
“Joanna Wronecka (Poland) said she was concerned over the use of a nerve agent in a murder attempt that had endangered the lives of innocent civilians. She condemned the attack on the territory of the United Kingdom, which was the first of its kind in Europe after the Second World War. After the continued use of chemical weapons in Syria, it was another violation of international law and a violation of the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. She expressed her solidarity with the British people and Government, and called on the Russian Federation to address the questions of the United Kingdom and to cooperate with OPCW in that regard. There was no place for impunity, and those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable.”
It is significant when Poles pass up a chance to be anti-Russian. Of course, they have a very accurate knowledge of what Russians do and do not do. And they, like Russia, followed Western advice first and then learned better.
It’s also a fact that the attack on Skripal is the first ever use of nerve gas in Europe. The Nazis developed them, but mistakenly believed that the Allies also had them. Both sides had conventional poison-gas shells prepared, but never used them. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq used various poison gases, maybe including nerve gases, during the wars it waged in its time as a Western ally. Nerve gases have been used in Syria’s civil war, though it is disputed who did it.
North Korea is generally held responsible for the nerve-gas assassination of a half-brother of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Malaysia. Yet the mainstream media have never mentioned the possibility that they might have organised trouble between Russia and the West. I still see anti-Putin Russians as more likely. But the British establishment insist that it must have been an official action by Russia
Poland, unlike Russia, was able to find a home in the European Union, which the New Right hate. Right-wing Britons would like to gut it of all its social functions. Poland meantime has opted for authentic conservatism – not a creed I like, but also I’m not fool enough to think it wise for a Briton to try telling them what to do. British governments first urged them in 1939 to reject a moderate offer from Hitler, and then made minimal protests when the Soviet Union swallowed them during the destruction of Nazi Germany. There and elsewhere, the liberal-left will lose and will deserve to lose when they accept the toxic mix favoured by Tony Blair’s New Labour and the Clinton Democrats. Social liberalism, but accepting toxic New Right economics as an unavoidable truth. (An ‘unavoidable truth’ that just happens to deliver increasingly large slices of the social wealth to the more-than-millionaire Overclass that Blair and the Clintons are part of, while imposing austerity on most of us.)
The remnants of New Labour are enthusiasts for the ‘Phantom Menace’ nonsense. I think it an excellent issue to fight on.
Sergei Skripal was a paid traitor. There are plenty of Russians who opposed Putin from genuine belief. But Skripal was a pure mercenary, with no known interest in any of these.
I asked on the high-quality questions-and-answers forum Quora if he might have had any motive other than money to sell Russia secrets to the West. Several people tried to cast fog and darkness on the matter, but no one denied the basic facts. He was a military man and government employee who betrayed his colleagues, and was caught in 2006:
“Russian prosecutors said he had been paid $100,000 by MI6 for information, which he had been supplying since the 1990s when he was a serving officer. The FSB, Russia’s security agency, said the information passed to MI6 by Skripal constituted state secrets.
“Skripal served in Russia’s GRU military intelligence until 1999, reaching the rank of colonel. He then worked at the Russian foreign ministry’s office in Moscow until 2003, when he went into business.”
After the incompetent privatisations and anti-state attitudes of the Yeltsin era, there is never a clear line in Russia between private business and crime.
“In July 2010, the then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, pardoned Skripal and the former colonel was one of four spies exchanged for 10 deep cover ‘sleeper’ agents planted in the US by Moscow.”
In Britain, he was well off. And engaged in business of some sort:
“Home is a modern redbrick house that he bought under his real name without a mortgage for £260,000 in 2011, a year after the spy swap. He lived there with his wife, Liudmila, until her death from cancer five years ago.
“Skripal, who drives a BMW, shops for Polish sausage at the Bargain Stop convenience store where he also indulges his love of gambling, buying up to £40-worth of lottery scratchcards at a time.
“Skripal lets it be known to locals that he is a retired local government official and people also believe he dabbles in property deals abroad.”
It is hard to see why Putin would have thought him worth killing. This also applies to various other killings Putin has been blamed for by the Western media. None of the victims had the political weight to be of the slightest concern to the hugely popular President of Russia. All of them might have had personal enemies, or have been investigating dangerous characters. Threatening to reveal secrets that might plausibly hurt mid-rankers in Russia’s business and political elite, who have never really cleaned up after the dirt of the Yeltsin years.
Moreover, professional assassinations have three key features:
- The target is either killed outright, or wounded beyond hope of recovery.
- Innocent bystanders are not hurt.
- There is nothing to link the killing to any particular suspect or group of suspects.
If the main aim was to kill Sergei Skripal, then the nerve gas attack broke all three rules. As at 20th March, the man and his daughter are still alive, though critically ill. Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who fell ill attending to the pair, remains seriously ill. Two other policemen showed symptoms but recovered. It is now thought others were at risk and have been advised to cleanse any clothing they wore while near the attack. (But I have not yet seen a clear account of how the authorities think the attack happened.)
His daughter Yulia, who is still a Russian citizen, was hurt just as badly as her father. Possibly she too was seen as a legitimate target. If not, putting her life at risk is not something a professional assassin would do. They too have families, and want some limits maintained.
Weirdly, Skripal’s elder brother, wife, and son all died over the last few years, though his wife died in Britain under regular British medical care. Since his daughter chose to live in Moscow, she clearly did not see herself as in any particular danger.
Or perhaps no more in danger in Russia than anywhere else in the world. The fall of the Soviet Union led to the creation of formidable global criminal networks. Networks that combined existing criminals with displaced members of the security services etc. Networks that could reach almost anywhere:
“Commenting on Skripal’s case, Lieutenant General William Rooda, who used to work in the intelligence services, said that he probably had many personal enemies, who could want him dead, as he had disclosed the identities of dozens of fellow agents to Britain’s MI-6. Although, according to the retired spy, many questions arise regarding the time and place of the attempted murder, as well as the weapon.
“Rooda proceeded to say that the alleged attack on Skripal was ‘obviously’ carried out by non-professionals or by professionals whose aim was not to murder him but to cause an international scandal. At the same time, he noted that military intelligence never used any extraordinary poison or toxic substances to secretly eliminate its enemies.”
The breach of the third rule in ‘Good Assassins Guide’ is the one I find decisive. Of all the possible methods of killing, those behind the attack chose Novichok, invented in Russia and not known to have been made or used by anyone else.
‘Not known’ is very different from ‘not possible’, of course. Most Britons have been hustled into forgetting the difference.
“Novichok … meaning roughly ‘newcomer’ … is a series of nerve agents that were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s…
“These agents were designed to achieve four objectives:
“To be undetectable using standard NATO chemical detection equipment;
“To defeat NATO chemical protective gear;
“To be safer to handle;
“To circumvent the Chemical Weapons Convention list of controlled precursors, classes of chemical and physical form.
“All these objectives were claimed to have been achieved…
“According to Mirzayanov, the Russian Military Chemical Complex (MCC) was using defense conversion money received from the West for development of a chemical warfare facility. Mirzayanov made his disclosure out of environmental concerns. He was a head of a counter-intelligence department and performed measurements outside the chemical weapons facilities to make sure that foreign spies could not detect any traces of production. To his horror, the levels of deadly substances were 80 times greater than the maximum safe concentration. (A full account by Mirzayanov is available online.)
“The existence of Novichok agents was admitted by Russian military industrial complex authorities when they brought a treason case against Mirzayanov. According to expert witness testimonies prepared for the KGB by three scientists, Novichok and other related chemical agents had indeed been produced and therefore the disclosure by Mirzayanov represented high treason.
“Vil Mirzayanov was arrested on 22 October 1992 and sent to Lefortovo prison for divulging state secrets. He was released later because “not one of the formulas or names of poisonous substances in the Moscow News article was new to the Soviet press, nor were locations … of testing sites revealed.” According to Yevgenia Albats, ‘the real state secret revealed by Fyodorov and Mirzayanov was that generals had lied — and were still lying — to both the international community and their fellow citizens.’ He now lives in the U.S…
“Some of these agents are binary weapons, in which precursors for the nerve agents are mixed in a munition to produce the agent just prior to its use…
“One of the key manufacturing sites was the Soviet State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology … in Nukus, Uzbekistan. Small, experimental batches of the weapons may have been tested on the nearby Ustyurt plateau. It may also have been tested in a research centre … near Moscow. Since its independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has been working with the government of the United States to dismantle and decontaminate the sites where the Novichok agents and other chemical weapons were tested and developed…
“The agents may cause lasting nerve damage, resulting in permanent disablement of victims, according to Russian scientists.”
That’s how the Wiki sees it. There are any number of possible paths whereby someone independent of Moscow could have obtained a sample, or made one of the nerve gases themselves, particularly since the precursor chemicals are legal. Drug cartels often have sophisticated chemical laboratories. Anyone with money ought to be able to obtain enough of a Novichok agent to mount the nerve gas attack. And they could easily give a false story to whoever made it for them. Nerve gas would be highly suitable for attacking the headquarters of high-level gangsters, for instance, though I’ve not heard of this happening.
But if one looks for motive, anti-Putin Russians are much the most likely offenders. There are many Russians who were once close to power and were shoved aside, mostly by Putin when he restored the power of the Russian state. These losers are highly fragmented, and include any number of people who were semi-criminal rather than ideological. And there must be plenty more who are overtly pro-Putin, but might secretly wish to undermine him.
None of these seem concerned that they damage Russia when they damage Putin. I’d suppose most of them think that they are very superior and that removing Putin is worth almost any cost. Displaced politicians often do think like that.
The Wiki’s entries are also biased towards the US and British view. The reality of ‘Newcomer’ nerve gases has been questioned, most notably by Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. He is no leftist – he’s a member of Britain’s Liberal Democrats and voted for their coalition with Cameron. While in Uzbekistan, he apparently irritated the USA and got accused of a range of offences, all of which he was later cleared of. He has good reason to suspect ‘dirty tricks’, and classes the nerve gas affair as a scam similar to the notorious claim of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq:
“As recently as 2016 Dr Robin Black, Head of the Detection Laboratory at the UK’s only chemical weapons facility at Porton Down, a former colleague of Dr David Kelly, published in an extremely prestigious scientific journal that the evidence for the existence of Novichoks was scant and their composition unknown.
“In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published. (Black, 2016)
“Yet now, the British Government is claiming to be able instantly to identify a substance which its only biological weapons research centre has never seen before and was unsure of its existence. Worse, it claims to be able not only to identify it, but to pinpoint its origin. Given Dr Black’s publication, it is plain that claim cannot be true.
“The world’s international chemical weapons experts share Dr Black’s opinion. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is a UN body based in the Hague. In 2013 this was the report of its Scientific Advisory Board, which included US, French, German and Russian government representatives and on which Dr Black was the UK representative:
“[The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of ‘Novichoks’. OPCW: Report of the Scientific Advisory Board on developments in science and technology for the Third Review Conference 27 March 2013
“Indeed the OPCW was so sceptical of the viability of ‘novichoks’ that it decided – with US and UK agreement – not to add them nor their alleged precursors to its banned list. In short, the scientific community broadly accepts Mirzayanov was working on ‘novichoks’ but doubts he succeeded.
“Given that the OPCW has taken the view the evidence for the existence of “Novichoks” is dubious, if the UK actually has a sample of one it is extremely important the UK presents that sample to the OPCW. Indeed the UK has a binding treaty obligation to present that sample to OPCW. Russia has – unreported by the corporate media – entered a demand at the OPCW that Britain submit a sample of the Salisbury material for international analysis.
“Yet Britain refuses to submit it to the OPCW.
“A second part of May’s accusation is that ‘Novichoks’ could only be made in certain military installations. But that is also demonstrably untrue. If they exist at all, Novichoks were allegedly designed to be able to be made at bench level in any commercial chemical facility – that was a major point of them. The only real evidence for the existence of Novichoks was the testimony of the ex-Soviet scientist Mirzayanov…
“Mirzayanov is an Uzbek name and the novichok programme, assuming it existed, was in the Soviet Union but far away from modern Russia, at Nukus in modern Uzbekistan. I have visited the Nukus chemical weapons site myself. It was dismantled and made safe and all the stocks destroyed and the equipment removed by the American government, as I recall finishing while I was Ambassador there. There has in fact never been any evidence that any ‘novichok’ ever existed in Russia itself.”
Mirzayanov gave the West a story that the West very much wanted to hear. He has continued to do so, and has been well looked after in the USA, where he now lives. But his supposedly expert judgements contradict people who have a genuinely neutral view of the mater.
Murray came back with further evidence that the real experts will not ‘sing to May’s tune’:
“I have now received confirmation from a well placed [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] 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.”
They are uncooperative despite getting a nice boost to their work:
“UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson urged Russia to ‘go away’ and ‘shut up’ as he unveiled plans for a new chemical weapons ‘defence centre’.
‘He made the comments as he announced a £48m investment in a facility that will be located at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down.
“Scientists at the Wiltshire lab helped identify the nerve agent used to attack ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal.”
There is broad skepticism:
“OPCW inspectors have had full access to all known Russian chemical weapons facilities for over a decade – including those identified by the “Novichok” alleged whistleblower Mirzayanov – and last year OPCW inspectors completed the destruction of the last of 40,000 tonnes of Russian chemical weapons
“By contrast the programme of destruction of US chemical weapons stocks still has five years to run
“Israel has extensive stocks of chemical weapons but has always refused to declare any of them to the OPCW. Israel is not a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention nor a member of the OPCW. Israel signed in 1993 but refused to ratify as this would mean inspection and destruction of its chemical weapons. Israel undoubtedly has as much technical capacity as any state to synthesise “Novichoks”.
“Until this week, the near universal belief among chemical weapons experts, and the official position of the OPCW, was that “Novichoks” were at most a theoretical research programme which the Russians had never succeeded in actually synthesising and manufacturing. That is why they are not on the OPCW list of banned chemical weapons.”
Another commentator noted that there had been no problems when Yeltsin was ruling and was doing everything he could to please the West:
“Under Boris Yeltsin, who won Russian elections thanks to Western covert meddling, the Russian government had declared that it was not stockpiling Novichok. This is why Yeltsin did not report Novichok’s existence under chemical-weapons conventions at the time — because the official Russian position was that the stockpiles no longer existed. Yeltsin’s Western allies did not disagree at the time.
“On the contrary, the Americans were involved in the dismantlement of Russia’s remaining Novichok capabilities.
“In August 1999, as the BBC reported, US defence experts arrived in Uzbekistan to help ‘dismantle and decontaminate one of the former Soviet Union’s largest chemical weapons testing facilities.’ The facility was known as ‘a major research site for a new generation of secret, highly lethal chemical weapons, known as Novichok’, and provided the US ample opportunity to learn about this nerve agent and reproduce it for testing and defence purposes.”
Criticism of Mrs May’s case is widespread. Veteran Australian journalist John Pilger has done a video interview calling it ‘a carefully-constructed drama’. And Craig Murray has now learned that Iran produced these ‘Russia-only’ nerve gases, though without intent to use them:
“I have now been sent the vital information that in late 2016, Iranian scientists set out to study whether novichoks really could be produced from commercially available ingredients. Iran succeeded in synthesising a number of novichoks. Iran did this in full cooperation with the OPCW and immediately reported the results to the OPCW so they could be added to the chemical weapons database.”
The OPCW is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the established international body that Russia correctly said that Britain should have taken its accusations to. A neutral report, Iranian chemists identify Russian chemical warfare agents, has been available to anyone interested since the start of 2017. Five distinct versions of the nerve gases were produced, even though Iran is only a medium-sized power.
He also notes how official statements mostly evade the question of whether someone other than the Russian state might have produced the chemicals used in the attack:
“What I wrote has not been refuted. It would be very easy to refute were it not true. The government would just have to say “Porton Down have stated that they have definitely identified the nerve agent as made in Russia’. They have not said that. Most extraordinarily, not one mainstream media ‘journalist’ has asked a minister the question: ‘You keep using this phrase the nerve agent is ‘of a type developed by Russia’. Are you able to confirm it was actually made in Russia?’.
“There is no excuse for this. Literally hundreds of mainstream media ‘journalists’ have slavishly reproduced the propaganda phrase ‘of a type developed by Russia’ without a single one of them every querying this rather odd wording, or why it is the government always uses that precise wording again and again and again.
“It goes without saying that not a single mainstream media ‘journalist’ has reported that fact either that until recently Porton Down believed that ‘novichoks’ had probably never actually been synthesised successfully and that the OPCW has never banned them on the grounds that there was no evidence of their physical existence.”
The whole case is falling apart.
Some people fear we are now heading for a World War. I don’t. Earlier on, I never for a moment believed that the USA was going to war with North Korea. Many are surprised by the current peace moves: I predicted something of the sort.
Unlike Iraq, North Korea has real Weapons of Mass Destruction. A US President who started such a war would be remembered as the worst bungler in history, even if the USA itself were not damaged. He might well be impeached – ‘high crimes’ are whatever Congress and the US Supreme Court want them to be.
A war with North Korea would at least leave behind a viable USA able to be outraged by the cost of it, just as they got vengeful over their defeat in Vietnam. Russia is another matter entirely. Even if Putin’s boast of extra weapons is a bluff, they are too tough for the USA to think of fighting them. Fights by proxies in Syria have ended with a massive victory for Russia.
Trump can be foolish on matters where business people can be expected to be ignorant. But the costs of a war are obvious. He will posture much but never go too far, just like previous US presidents.The true back-story, which even most critics of the USA miss, is that the New Right and their friends in the Blair / Clinton Democrat centre-left cannot afford to admit that they made a complete mess of a unique opportunity. Russia had rejected Leninism and was eager to learn from the West. They believed that they would be getting the nice Western life-style that won the Cold War. But as I have detailed elsewhere, the Cold War was not won by the economic methods the New Right favoured. Had these methods been applied in the 1950s, the massive growth achieved by Western Europe and Japan would never have happened. We’d probably be living in a United Soviet Europe. East Asia and Southeast Asia would be Communist. The USA would be a shrunken power that had never liberalised on race, sex or social manners in the 1960s.(I’ve detailed the merits of the Mixed Economy in Feed-the-Rich Economics, available as a back-issue of our magazine Problems. Data used in the graphs is from figures in The World Economy: Historical Statistics, acknowledged by experts as the best source for global historic growth.)
The naïve leftism that Blair and most of his followers at one time believed in made them unready to evolve into sensible Moderate Socialists. Moderate Socialists invented the Mixed Economy: socialist ideas applied but without ending capitalism or private ownership. Sadly, they mostly combined it with a feeling that the traditional values of the respectable middle class and respectable working class should stay dominant, which 1960s radicals found unacceptable. They eagerly accepted the pro-Moscow Communist line that this was still capitalism, and so wicked. Or if they preferred the Trotskyists, much the same message came from them. But as many of them grew richer and better connected, many of them noticed that the values of the respectable middle class and respectable working class were in fact being trashed, even though Mrs Thatcher undoubtedly believed that she was valiantly upholding them. Also, an increasingly atomised working class was less inclined towards Trade Unionism and Nationalisation. So why not shift to the new consensus? Forget about old-fashioned Labour values. Concentrate on social liberalisation, including innovations like more black faces and some openly gay and lesbian ministers. Accept Thatcherism as a grim sort of truth, but moderate it a bit.
The trouble was that Thatcher’s economics were actually fantasy. The Imaginary Capitalism of Adam Smith was set up as an ideal, but the state stepped in with massive public spending in the half-forgotten crisis of 1987, and the much more serious crisis of 2008. The Mixed Economy was denounced, but was never actually dismantled. The only real change was that it was fine-tuned to deliver an unfair share to what’s called the 1%. More accurately called a more-than-millionaire Overclass: and it is best to put it so because all sorts of moderately prosperous individuals will fancy that they are part of this superior group.
“Americans are usually over-optimistic about their chances of promotion. An opinion poll a couple of years ago found that 19% of American taxpayers believed themselves to be in the top 1% of earners. A further 20% thought they would end up there within their lifetimes.” 
In Britain, if you demand the immediate replacement of capitalism by socialism, very few voters would back you. But explain that a Mixed Economy has been unfairly biased towards the rich, and you ought to get majority support.
Corbyn and many of his followers see themselves as heirs of Tony Benn. Myself, I saw Benn as wrong on many things, but entirely right on seeing that the system was no longer capitalist. That it was capable of being made more strongly socialist by Workers Control and by capturing the ‘Commanding Heights’ of the economy. Today’s increasingly casualised workforce should at least like having some control over top management. So why is it not being pushed?
The mass membership of the Labour Party has rejected Blair, though many MPs and parts of the party machine are still Blairite. But Labour is by no means back to what it was.
The trouble is, the falsehoods of Thatcher and Blair are still part of the thinking of many who overtly reject them. And misunderstanding Russia is a major part of it.
The sources of news in Britain have also been corrupted:
“Over a quarter (27.3 per cent) of the press is owned by Lord Rothermere and 24.9 per cent by Rupert Murdoch – between them these two men have over 50 per cent of the printed press.
“Over three quarters (77.8 per cent) of the press is owned by a handful of billionaires. There are only 88 billionaires among the 63 million people in the UK and most of the barons do not even live in the UK.”
The Guardian, though broadly centre-left, is dominated by people who’ve transferred their resentment of the Soviet Union onto Putin’s Russia. Their fantasies about post-Soviet Russia failed to come off, so they blame Putin. Rather than learn from their mistakes, they have learned all of their mistakes and repeat them almost exactly. The same applies in the BBC – Russia is seen as inexplicably wicked. Russian support for Putin’s highly successful government is seen as servility. (Likewise for Xi in China.)The West lost Russia because it did not repeat its successful strategy of the 1940s and 1950s, when ideas that had been considered socialist became part of mainstream politics. The Marshall Plan marginalised fascism in Italy and West Germany. It won over Japan. In the longer run, it undermined the once-gigantic Communist Parties of France and Italy.
Pumping in a few trillion would have made Russia prosperous and made Russia a permanent friend: George Soros actually called for this, but that was before he was famous.The bulk of the decision-makers were devout believers in New Right principles when they personally had nothing to gain from disbelieving them. They were certain that the trillions available could be spent on much better things, mostly weapons, gambling and luxuries for their more-than-millionaire class. They lost Russia, and helped ensure that China would turn away from their ideas. They now blame Xi Jinping: but many experts once hoped that Xi would see things their way. In short, they bungled on a massive scale. But they cannot possibly see their core ideas as wrong. Their own pathetic failure must due to some unexpected outbreak of evil.The West lost Russia, because when Russia under Yeltsin obeyed orders, the Russians got something very different from the nice Western life-style they’d been expecting. They’d have done better had they looked to Singapore, South Korea and Japan as models, as Deng’s people did in China after displacing Mao’s heir and downgrading Mao to someone only 70% correct. Or if Russians had prejudices against Asians, as many still do, they could have looked to Scandinavia. Looked in particular to Finland: Finland regularly comes first for Global Happiness, and can produce world-beating companies like Nokia. The should have modelled themselves on Finland and the other Scandinavian countries: looked to what worked. Instead they let New Right economists rule their thinking, and let them do all sorts of things that those people would not have been allowed to do back home.
It was a disaster, with shares in hastily-privatised companies that had been distributed to workers sold on to fraudsters with criminal connections.
Russia suffered enormously, and naturally resents it.
Rather than seeing Putin as a man who healed Russia after its wounding under Yeltsin, Putin is the object of intense hatred by the West. This includes many on the left, because he failed to match their dreams about what should happen in Russia.
Myself, I wish that the Soviet Union had done what People’s China did – kept the existing power-structures in place, rather than creating chaos and hoping something nice would emerge. It has been claimed that Yuri Andropov would have done this if his health had held out – he died after less than two years in power. All we know is that Gorbachev created chaos, and the system collapsed.
Something nice emerging out of chaos is no more likely than some particular individual winning millions on the lottery. (And is just as seductive as an idea.) It is certainly not what happened in Britain and the USA. Britain cast itself into chaos in its 17th century Civil War, and then restored the monarchy. Had James 2nd been willing to pose as an Anglican, as his elder brother did till he was on his deathbed, Parliament might have remained marginal. It might have faded to powerlessness, as similar institutions did elsewhere. Likewise had the monarch been a sincere Protestant absolutist, as happened in Sweden.
(Sweden had an Enlightened Absolute Monarchy from 1772 to 1809, longer than the period between Thatcher’s election as Prime Minister and the present day. Had royal rule not been discredited by Russia taking Finland from Sweden during the uncertain politics created by Napoleon’s wars, the Enlightened Absolutist version of Sweden might well have lasted longer.)
There was also nothing spontaneous about the American War of Independence. It was led by a home-grown gentry who had been happy to govern as part of the British Empire. They did not start from abstract opposition to monarchy: they resisted centralising efforts dominated by a Westminster Parliament that excluded them. ‘No Taxation without Representation’ was the original demand, turning to Independence only after the British government refused to compromise after early military defeats did not soften the British line.
Had the Thirteen Colonies been given 26 seats at Westminster – two members per constituency was then the norm – history might have gone differently. As things were, the new government was dominated by gentry, many of them slave-owners, including Washington and Jefferson. It was not a democracy even for white males until the 1830s, with woman having to wait till 1918 and most blacks till the 1960s. But from 1776 to Jefferson’s election in 1800, and arguably till Andrew Jackson in 1828, the electorate in the new USA were happy with this elite. Some would say that the US South chose to be ruled by it until modern times. Much the same spirit in which three-quarters of Russian votes chose Putin, I’d suppose.
Were I a Soviet citizen, I’d have wanted Putin to be re-elected. I might have cast a Protest Vote for a party of the left, but it’s moot if any of them could govern rather than protest. The pro-Western candidates don’t look like they could, even if I approved of them. One is heir to the mismanagement under Yeltsin. Another from Yabloko stands for Western ways as an abstraction, but has never coped with the realities of power. The third was a nice media lady who has never run anything outside of the media.
The actual results were:
|Putin||Leads the ruling party, ‘United Russia’. Various other supporters.||76.67|
|Grudinin||A leftist coalition led by the main Communist Party.||11.79|
|Zhirinovsky||Nationalist, called Hard-Right or even fascist in the West.||5.66|
|Sobchak||Vaguely pro-Western. Part Jewish and the only woman candidate.||1.67|
|Yavlinsky||His pro-Western party were an opposition even under Yeltsin.||1.04|
|Titov||Currently the main heir of the people who ruled Russia under Yeltsin.||0.76|
|Suraykin||Leader of a small alternative Communist Party.||0.68|
|Baburin||The Wiki calls his party ‘Left-wing nationalism, Conservative socialism’.||0.65|
That makes a grand total of 3.47 for the fragmented pro-Western opposition. 13.12 for people clearly to the left of Putin. Putin was also supported by a centre-left party, ‘A Just Russia’, who got 6.34 in the last parliamentary elections. Who had stood against Putin in a previous Presidential election, but are weaker than they once were.
I’ve heard various arguments about how Zhirinovsky should be placed, and don’t claim to know. He seems closest to what has more recently emerged as dominant in Poland and Hungary. His father was Jewish, and he has relatives in Israel. The Wiki quotes a lot of white-racist remarks. His party got 13.24% in the last Parliamentary election, much better than his Presidential total. The Communists got 13.34: they have declined continuously from their high point in 1996, when they got 40.7% in the second round against Yeltsin in his final election as President. (That Russia came close to voting Communists back into power is one of many ‘off-message facts’ that Western experts fail to face up to.)
A disqualified candidate, Alexei Navalny, got 23% in a 2013 election for Moscow Mayor. He might have been another of the Populists who win on hazy promises that they then fail to meet. Where he fits is moot:
“Unlike every other person in opposition politics during the Putin era, Navalny understood that Putin was not Russia’s main problem. Rather, the problem was the post-Soviet culture of greed, fear and cynicism that Putin encouraged and exploited. Navalny carefully distanced himself from the shrill, old-guard Western-friendly liberals—‘hellish, insane, crazy mass of the leftovers and bread crusts of the democracy movement of the eighties,’ he called them—who simply participated in Putin’s cult of personality in reverse, for it is also cultish to believe that one man is responsible for all the evil in your country.”
Putin inherited evil from Yeltsin, who had faithfully followed Western advice. Putin improved life for ordinary Russians without seeking to throw Russian into a new round of chaos:
“Russia has undergone massive changes since Vladimir Putin came to power. The new president managed to normalize the situation in national politics and economy. The reforms, however, were in favor of those who cooperated with the KGB, such as Putin. The president and his followers seized power at first. They struggled to weaken the position of other influential people – businessmen and local elites. Then, when power was in the hands of Putin, the property of elites was brought under state control. Power converted into assets and capital. The Yukos case proves that.
“Peculiar relationship between state and society was also established. The authorities offered normalization, welfare programmes and the improvement of material status in exchange for political loyalty or passiveness.”
This is from a Western enthusiast for Navalny. What they call a ‘peculiar relationship’ is actually the modern norm. And I can’t think of a single case anywhere in the world in which a populist candidate promising to clean up corruption was actually able to do this. At best, they create public pressure that helps the existing political machine clean itself.
The British Government has so far avoided any risk of having the nerve gas incident judged by anyone they could not control.
They demanded that Russia should submit itself to British judgement on a crime committed on British soil by persons unknown. Would any sovereign government let itself be treated like that?
“The prime minister told the House of Commons the Kremlin had responded with ‘sarcasm, contempt and defiance’ to the 24-hour deadline the government set on Monday for explaining the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal.”
That’s from the Guardian, the main left-of-centre serious newspaper, yet still reproducing Cold War attitudes. The demand was unreasonable. There were proper international procedures, but those were being ignored:
“Russia has said it will not respond to the prime minister’s demand until it has a sample of the toxin and internationally-accepted procedure is followed in the investigation. The case must go through the proper channels of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), of which both Russia and the UK are members, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov has said. The OPCW rules allow London to send a formal inquiry to Moscow, with a 10-day window for a reply.”
Putin was not going to let Britain humble him. Apart from the ‘Self-Abasement Tendency’ – the one-in-twenty minority of Russians who think that Russia should have gone on being obedient as they were under Yeltsin – he has public support:
“Ask someone on the street in Moscow about the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, and their answers often reflect those heard every day from local TV pundits or MPs…
“Why use a Soviet nerve agent that can be traced back to Moscow? And why attempt to kill a double agent who was traded years ago and no longer of any use?
“And then, as seen on TV, came the kicker: ‘He lived a dangerous life. He clearly got himself into some trouble.’”
Most Russians assume that private business and crime are much the same thing. With Russia’s global networks, the only networks Skripal could easily access, that is mostly true. Even if you try scrupulously to be honest – which would be unexpected for a man with a past as a paid traitor – you could find yourself in trouble with someone less scrupulous.
I also don’t suppose May cares. The main point was to stir up panic about what Russia might be doing. Exactly the same trick was worked with Ukraine, when the West supported a mob take-over that blatantly broke Ukraine’s own constitution. A heavy presence of neo-Nazis was ignored, even though much weaker Nazi connections have been anathematised when this suits the Establishment, as with Austria’s Kurt Waldheim back in the 1980s. The take-over was an each-way bet. If the new anti-Russian Ukraine got control of Crimea, Russia would lose its main outlet to the Black Sea, Mediterranean and wider world. But if they stepped in, the West could create a panic that Russia was returning to its expansionist past.
Critics tend to miss the point. Yes, the referendum was hasty. But a duly elected regional government of Crimea had already expressed a wish to quit a Ukraine that was breaking with its initial stance of friendship with Russia. And no one at all has asked Russia to allow a second vote under proper international supervision. Everyone who addressed the issue agreed that this would confirm Crimea’s wish to be Russian. So it is never addressed, and most of the public fail to notice.
The main accusation is absurd. Yes, only Russia is known to have worked on Novichok nerve gases. But only in Uzbekistan, which bcame independent and till 2005 was pro-USA. The Uzbekistan facilities are known to have been closed down and all of the nerve gas should have been destroyed. And it seems it was only standard nerve gases: the more dangerous 4th-generation Novichok gases were never produced.
Obviously, Russia could have set up other labs and made a workable Novichok. But so could a vast number of other sovereign states. Plus many rich and criminal non-state bodies.
Anything done in Russia can be duplicated in many other places. The trickiest of all is making H-bombs, which the USA thought no one else would manage. Achieved by the Soviet Union, Britain, France, China, the Republic of India, and North Korea: Israel is also assumed to have them. Pakistan has the rather simpler fission bombs. South Africa had these in the 1980s, but abandoned them in the 1990s.
Space technology is also tricky, but widespread. Western Europe, China, Japan, India, and Iran also followed the USA and Soviet Union into space. There are also several private space initiatives in the USA, several of which have launched satellites. With the resources of a large state, or even a giant corporation, all sorts of things are possible, good or bad.
Both Israel and Pakistan are well known to dislike Russia, and would be delighted to increase the mutual hostility. Israel has seen its least-liked neighbour Syria saved by Russia. Pakistan’s state machine and in particular its Intelligence Services have been ambiguously linked to Islamist Terrorism. (They also invented the Taliban, who are hard-line but not global terrorists.) The USA chose not to trust Pakistan when it went to murder Bin Laden. Two excellent suspects, and one could find more. As I mentioned earlier, North Korea is generally believed to have done a nerve-gas assassination on a North Korean in Malaysia.
Anyone who seeks to build an independent way of life, is threatened by the USA’s bungling attempt to make everyone as like them as possible. A lot more suspects could be added.
Suppose the gas were somehow provably made in Russia when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Would that make the current Russian government guilty? Would it cast such suspicion that they could be required to defend themselves at Britain’s beck and call?
Jeremy Corbyn made this point. He is being denounced for not joining in the lynch-mob chorus that asserts that Putin must be guilty, since the gas was made in the Soviet Union.
I’ve already shown it need not have been made in the Soviet Union. There was also much disorder after the Soviet fall, and a real fear that all sorts of weapons might fall into the wrong hands. Stealing a little nerve gas would have been easy.
If someone were shot with Smith & Wesson revolver, would you accuse the directors of Smith & Wesson?
Kalashnikov rifles were a Soviet invention, but have long since become an item made all over the world and sold on anywhere. No one blames Russia for various wars and murders that use Kalashnikovs.
As I said earlier, I suspect Russians hostile to Putin. Though Britain almost certainly has stocks, it would be very worrying indeed if Britain’s Security Services had become amoral enough to release nerve gas in Britain. Bizarre if they were to risk the lives of three police officers, one whom is still ill and may never fully recover. Stranger still to try to kill the daughter of the spy. Thriller films show them doing all sorts of doubtful things, but nothing as bad as that.
There is no serious doubt that the British secret services do kill. But as far as we know, there is a definite hierarchy in who they are ready to kill. In Northern Ireland, it is widely believed that while the war was on, they killed enemy fighters outside the ‘rules of engagement’. There is also good evidence of Secret Service involvement in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, which killed 33 including an unborn child. Nor is there much doubt about their involvement in the torture of suspected Islamic terrorists, not all of whom are guilty. But if they would stage their own terrorist attack in Britain, that would indicate a further deterioration.
It could be true, because they probably see that Anglo values are losing out globally. And secret services everywhere usually have no coherent answer except to bend the rules even further than they have already been bent.
I also see it as futile. Murder and torture cure nothing, unless it is part of a brutal and open mass repression. Britain has always had some inhibitions. They probably lost the American War of Independence when they chose not to burn down Boston when they found themselves forced to withdraw from it: it became a source of hope for the rebels. The British Empire did win in their conquest of Boer Republics with their valuable gold and other minerals, by inventing the first Concentration Camps and letting large numbers of white women and children die in them. But this was denounced at the time, though similar things done to non-whites had seldom been questions. Britain in its Second Boer War expanded the boundaries of state repression. Many people remember that Hitler had used the British-Empire Concentration Camps as a precedent for his own vastly more brutal actions.
I repeat my belief that some particular faction among the vast diversity of anti-Putin Russians are the best suspects. The most likely to possess a weapon based on an unfinished Soviet project. The most offended by the certainty that Putin would be re-elected yet again this year. The most keen to stoke up hostility between the West and Russia’s majority under Putin.
What’s depressing is that Mrs May has got away with declaring Putin guilty in defiance of the evidence. She has got only lukewarm support in the wider world, but in Britain she has the majority.
But may not keep that majority if there are embarrassing leaks, as happened over the Iraq War. Truths have a way of escaping even the power of media empires run by the rich.
Copyright © Gwydion M. Williams
 Economist, September 6th, 2003.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_presidential_election,_2018#Results, as at 19/03/2018 11:16