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By Morak Babajide-Alabi
Russia is back in the naughty corner, once again. You might ask whenever has the former communist country not be in the wayward corner. We are accustomed to the constant castigation of Russia for going against established norms or to declare it in diplomatic words – fond of fishing in troubled waters.
Surprisingly, while other belligerent countries are scrutinised for what they do inside their territories, Russia is notorious for what it does in other countries. Ruled by strongman Vladimir Putin, who was re-elected for a third term last year, it is a country where freedom of expression is daily trampled upon and infringing the rights of citizens remains an act of governance. The economy is nothing to write home about as common men and women feel the effects of sanctions imposed on the country as a result of consistently going against conventional norms.
Russia is fingered in many notorious cases that threaten global peace and stability. To be frank, it is hard to identify Russia with any outstanding contributions to the world. She may be contributing in many ways, but the negative activities are suffocating these.
The mention of the name Russia conjures the picture of a colony of dreadful men and women. This image practically ruined the hosting of the 2018 World Cup as sanctions and cancellation were canvassed, based on preconceived ideas. In fact many players, officials and supporters went to the games with their hearts in their mouths, expecting the worst from the Russian mobs and “monsters.” This is the image of the Russia we have in our heads.
You wouldn’t condemn anyone for expressing a terrible “ideal” of the country. But at the same time, one tends to sympathise (a bit) with Russia as it is eternally haunted by her historic past, especially the Cold War days. It is impossible to separate modern Russia from the old Soviet Union and as a result, the “sins” of the past are visited on the Russia of today.
They are clearly not the same, but Putin’s Russia has barely anything to correct this impression. One gets the idea that Putin enjoys this bad boy image as he is trying, very hard (negatively, though) to preserve the country away from the bin of history. We may say they are winning regardless with this aggressive strategy. Would you have imagined the United States of America Republican government of Donald Trump would be desperate to appease Russia?
Russia is accused of maintaining hands in virtually everything that you could express the word “bad” on. It is argued that most of the media reports are promoted by westerners and are therefore exaggerated. This argument would be sustainable if only Russian leaders engage in open games in their interactions with the rest of the world.
The task of defending Russia’s “us against the world” stance is becoming extremely challenging. The reality of the aggression on the world is felt all over the world, and justifying them is no longer easy. Unfortunately for Russia, for every allegation, there are pieces of evidence to support them.
It is alleged that the Syrian civil war has lingered on because of Putin’s involvement. The Donald Trump presidency is tainted by the 2016 Russian connection, and the stain on the US democracy is proving difficult to wash away, at least not very soon. The UK government has accused Russia, many times, of carrying out various attacks on her soil.
The UK experiences a pattern of history with Russia. The most recent was earlier this year on March 4, when two individuals were found slumped on a bench in a park in the peaceful town of Salisbury. At the time, they looked like a pair who had more than the usual at lunchtime. It did not, however, take long before they were identified as Sergei Skripal and the daughter Yulia.
Sergei was a Russian agent who later defected to work for the British intelligence. He had adopted a tranquil life in the rural city of Salisbury after an “exchange prisoner” swap brokered by the US. His daughter Yulia had flown in from Russia where she resided a day before. The identification of these two and the knowledge that they were poisoned by a nerve agent, developed by the former Soviet Union, altered the course of the investigations.
Immediately after this discovery, accusing fingers were pointed in Russia’s way (as usual). The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, somewhat cautiously, announced that it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible” for the attack. She had said – “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
May was cautious, but the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson characteristically apportioned the blame squarely on the Russian state. His comments caused some sort of controversies in and outside the UK. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, saw it as a political battle and generated so much noise about Johnson’s comments than actually condemning the poison attack. Erratically these politicians lose their heads when they absolutely require them most. They attack each other unnecessarily, sometimes.
When two Britons fell ill with the same symptoms as the in Salisbury, there were serious concerns. Charlie Rowley, the lover man, has picked up a Nina Ricci ‘Premier Jour’ perfume bottle in a charity pack and “gifted” his partner Dawn Sturgess. The pair was rushed to the hospital not long after this and sadly the innocent Dawn died on the eighth day. The revelation that the couple had been exposed to the nerve agent, Novichok was devastating.
After many months of thorough investigations, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Scotland Yard announced last week that two Russians – Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – would be prosecuted for the attempted murder of the Skirpals. Not a “jot” of a surprise that the Russians were fingered in the attack, but details of the precision of the attack were shocking. The Metropolitan Police released comprehensive CCTV footages of the men, who are identified as Russian GRU military intelligence officers.
A European Arrest Warrant and Interpol red notices have been issued for the two individuals for the UK attack. But there is an agreement that they may never be caught as long as they don’t step out of Russia. Russia has laughed the whole thing off as a big joke and they will not investigate nor hand over these guys to the UK. The UK government recognizes this and the world knows this, as till date the alleged killer of Alexander Litvinenko – Andrey Lugovoi – walks the Russian streets freely.
Russia has been unable to justify nor defend the attack on and the town of Salisbury. They have claimed ignorance, even when all evidence point to a state-sponsored attack. I foresee a completely isolated Russia in the future. I see a country labouring under the yokes of sanctions. I do not know, now, if the direct impact of the sanctions on the common men and women would thrust them to the streets to demand a change in how they are governed or who governs them. But I know something has to change – maybe the mentality of the Russian leaders or the world needs to stop trying to change Russia.
As written for the Diaspora Column, Sunday Vanguard September 9, 2018