Going Global: Britain’s Response to Russian Poisoning
Theresa May and Her Majesty’s Government show what retaliation looks like
Columns / March 20, 2018
While the American executive branch rolls over for Russia, the British have shown that foreign governments don’t get to kill someone on their soil and get away with it.
Headlines were made across the world when a poisoning in a quiet English village nearly killed a former Russian double agent named Sergei Skripal and his daughter, leaving them in critical condition. Russia was quickly assessed as the culprit.
Sergei Skripal worked as a double agent for the U.K. from 1995 to 2004, stopping when he was caught by the Russian FSB and convicted of high treason. He eventually moved to Britain as part of a spy swap in 2010.
So far, the U.K. has expelled 23 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning and is beginning to ask questions about how Russian-owned property in expensive London neighbourhoods is being paid for. If there’s one way to hurt Vladimir Putin, it’s to hurt his oligarchical benefactors.
I’ll be honest; I’m not a fan of the current British Prime Minister Theresa May. I could easily make every column about how badly Brexit is going, what an embarrassment it all is, and how much I wish the Lib Dems had won in the snap election so that they could scrap it. But credit needs to be given where it’s due: May’s response to the poisoning is exactly the kind of attitude that needs to be taken against Putin’s strong-armed tactics.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the United States still looks feeble. In contrast to the British government’s show of force against Russian meddling, President Donald Trump is merely pretending to be mad at Putin. On March 13, he said that, if Russia’s involvement with the poisoning is confirmed, the United States would “condemn Russia or whoever it may be” and side with the British.
However, the United States has yet to take any meaningful action over findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 Presidential election, despite every American intelligence agency and a few international intelligence partners confirming so. The fact that the President of the United States is reluctant to badmouth Putin while some of his executive hires are doing so readily makes the country look weak.
The Russians, of course, deny that they had any involvement in the poisoning, even though intelligence agencies say otherwise. Regardless, it’s well known that Putin is ruthlessly Machiavellian in the business of crushing and obstructing his opposition, whether that opposition be spies, journalists, or politicians like Alexei Navalny, whose election bid against Putin was derailed by embezzlement charges—charges that many consider to be politically motivated.
It’s in Russia’s interest to make dissenting as unappealing as possible. Through poisoning Skripal, Russia is showing the world that, even if you find safety after selling secrets to the West, you will eventually be found and killed.
Authoritarian countries like Russia might look stable from the outside—as it has had the same two people acting as Prime Minister and President for nearly 20 years—but it is much more fragile than it appears. In a democracy, a percentage of the political power is distributed amongst the entire population, and there’s a constant expectation of leaders to be prepared to lose the next election. In 2019, Trudeau could lose and be replaced by Andrew Scheer or Jagmeet Singh, and while there would be changes in the government, nothing would fall apart.
In Russia, if there was someone more competent, intelligent, and capable than Putin, he would have been replaced a long time ago.