By Morak Babajide-Alabi
The Russians are the bad boys of the world right now as their notoriety in recent years is unequalled. The country has had her fingers spotted in all bad pies in various parts of the world. The Americans are still trying to understand what hit them from behind with the 2016 Presidential elections, won by Donald Trump. The Russians intervention has marred Trump’s presidency with no day gone by without a mention of their roles in installing him.
It is no secret that Russia also has its name written on all papers and ammunition being used in the Syrian war and the attendant persecution of people in the country. Russia is a country trying desperately to keep up the hard image of the opposition of the flow of events to the rest of the world. Its involvement in many unprovoked conflicts all over the world has kept leaders awake at night completely ignorant of how to convince President Vladimir Putin and his team to tow the path of world peace.
The Russians have, historically, been unfortunately blessed with leaders that lead the country to act as the unofficial “stopper” of the influence of the West. You are right if you say the Russians select their friends carefully but you cannot say they pick their fights wisely. They are upfront and not afraid to ruffle feathers. Can you recall the unprovoked attack on Ukraine a few years back?
Unfortunately for the United Kingdom, they have had to contend with the Russians a few times, especially in the murder or attempted assassination of exiles in the country. We can still recall the diplomatic row that followed the poisoning of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
This same scenario played out again last week, thereby, once again, making the relationship between these two very tense with a promise of worse things to come. On March 4, a former Russian spy, Sergel Skripal and his daughter, Yulia were found slumped on the bench in the British city of Salisbury. It was an unusual sight which, though was attended to promptly, has kept the pair desperately clinging on to their lives in intensive care.
Sergel, a Russian military intelligence officer was granted refuge in the UK in 2010 after being jailed in his country of birth for treason. When he and daughter Yulia were found on this day, not for once would the thought of a large scale diplomatic row crossed the mind of the passers-by or witnesses. They would have thought they were a pair who had probably had more than their capacity of alcohol during their afternoon dinner at the Italian restaurant – Zizzi.
It did not take long for security agencies to discover that the Skripals were poisoned by the deadly nerve agent – Novichok, developed by Russia. As a result, all fingers are pointed towards the Russian government as being responsible for the attempted murder. This dastardly act has attracted a lot of attention from the international community and has kick-started the replay of diplomatic wrangling as of the Cold War era.
The nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that prevent the nervous system from working properly, and can be fatal and take different forms – including powder and gas – but most tend to be liquid, which allegedly can seep through the skin. So for Sergei, daughter and Detective Sergeant Nick Baileyon – the policeman who tried to resuscitate them on the scene – it has been life and death battle. For Baileyon, it was an indirect attack in the line of duty, while father and daughter were specifically targeted.
Right now Russia cut a figure of a lonely country. The loquacious British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has put pressure on President Putin accusing him of being the mastermind of the poisoning of the Skripals. Let us remember that Johnson had never hidden his opinion of Russia’s guilt in all these. Going by history, you will not blame him, as a public inquiry into a similar poisoning of Litvinenko concluded that it was probably Putin that approved the assassination. Litvinenko had died from radioactive polonium-210, believed to have been served in a cup of tea.
Prime Minister Theresa May has also come hard on the Russians for what happened to the Skripals and the fact that it was on the street of UK. It could have happened in any city of the world, actually. She is a straight woman, who does not play politics with state security. She does not have to tell you to look at her face before you realise she is actually serious, nor does she speak before logically arranging her thoughts.
Last Wednesday, May took her best foot forward and said there is a high likelihood that Russia was culpable in the use of nerve agent in her country. As a first step, she announced a number of sanctions, among which is the expulsion of twenty-three Russian diplomats from Britain. Theresa May said: “We will not tolerate the threat to the life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian government. Nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations. We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents. There is no place for these people – or their money – in our country. “
The government had earlier last week Monday given Russia a 24-hour deadline to explain the attack on Skripal. I am not sure if it had thought the Russians would respond or just felt they should be given a benefit of the doubt. It was not a surprise, therefore, when the Russians reacted to the deadline with “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”. May said: “Their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events. There is no alternative conclusion other than the Russian state was responsible for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter.”
There have been divided opinions on this move. While some think she acted too late, the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of “rushing way ahead of the evidence”. His stand has raised questions about his ability to govern without pandering to the former Soviet Union bloc. To be fair to him, he clarified his position by saying – “What I was asking was questions about the identity of the weapon, questions about the reference to the weapons convention and also the support of other allies in this.”
The Russians are not known to sit back and take free blows on the chin. They retaliated yesterday by expelling twenty-three British diplomats and also closed down the British Council while threatening that it would do more if Britain continues in the unfriendly path. The end is not in sight for this diplomatic row. No one can predict what will happen next, but for Russia, this is a journey to isolation, as I can see more sanctions coming, especially with the discovery last Friday that another Russian exile, Nikolai Glushkov was murdered in London.
The world must rise against the threat of these Russians.
As published in the Sunday Vanguard of March 18, 2018