If Britain can prove that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of former Russian spy and British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southern British city of Salisbury on March 4, then it has every reason to be furious.
That Britain has so far failed to show the evidence that Russia has demanded does not mean Russia had no role in the attack. However, the angry rhetoric and tough diplomatic measures against Russia – the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United States and Europe -- have provided the US and Britain a justification to reinforce Nato’s presence close to Russia.
Standing by Britain, the United States on Monday ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats. The move was somewhat unexpected because it came only days after President Donald Trump spoke to Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to congratulate him on his “historic” election victory at the March 18 presidential election. Perhaps, by penalising Russia, Trump seeks to send a message to US voters that he is not under obligation to Russia, in view of allegations that Russian helped Trump win the 2016 presidential election -- a matter now under investigation by a Special Counsel.
Perhaps, the US expulsion of Russian diplomats reflects the thinking of the new Trump team. Given the fact that the Trump administration is now guided by hawks such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor and Iraq war architect John Bolton, and Nick Haley, Trump’s hit woman at the United Nations, there is little surprise in the harsh measure against Russia.
Wednesday’s media briefing at the US State Department said it all.
“Russia has long arms, lots of tentacles. It is a beast from the deep sea,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said, adding that Russia remains interested in meddling in other countries’ affairs. Perhaps, the spokeswoman knows nothing about US interference in other countries. In the current context, it is worth recalling the US-backed Ukrainian coup, which exacerbated the tension between Russia and the West, and the infamous “f*** the EU” words uttered by a frustrated Victoria Nuland, the then Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs, when the EU nations were reluctant to be on board.
The new US stance contradicts what Trump had been advocating since his election to office in November 2016.
In a number of statements, Trump had called for stronger US relations with Russia. He had described the sanctions the US Congress had imposed on Russia over the annexation of Crimea in 2014 as “very, very heavy” and suggested that they should be lifted. Trump had said “having Russia in a friendly posture as opposed to always fighting them is an asset.”
The axis’ strategy appears to be that with the increase in the cold war type tensions, Russia would increase its military budget and this may sooner or later lead to an economic crisis which in turn would lead to the overthrow of the Putin government by a popular uprising
The Trump policy on Russia has now taken a 180-degree turn. Well unpredictability is a key feature of the Trump administration. With Trump in the White House together with hawks, none can rule out a war on Iran or even a nuclear strike against any country.
When asked whether the US had proof to penalise Russia, the State Department spokeswoman could only say that the US believed what the British Government had said.
Britain’s Theresa May Government has also produced no proof to back up its accusation against Russia though it claims it has shared “unprecedented intelligence with allies”. Joining Britain in solidarity were several European nations. They expelled a few Russian diplomats from their capitals. Britain, on March 14, expelled 23 Russian diplomats – a move that prompted Russia to retaliate by expelling 23 British diplomats.
Whether Russia did or did not poison the double agent and his daughter, assassinations and false flags are part of big power politics. Did not Joseph Stalin kill Leon Trotsky? Did not the US-backed Bolivian Army kill Che Guevera? How many times, did the CIA try to kill Fidel Castro, sometimes by poisoning? How many false flag operations -- such as the Gulf of Tonkin incident -- has the US staged to justify wars? How many lies – such as Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – have the US and Britain fabricated to start wars of aggression?
The US and Britain feel that there is an urgent need to contain Russia, which is becoming stronger by the day. The US and Britain are furious that Russia with its intervention in the Syrian conflict has bailed out the Bashar al-Assad regime and dashed the geopolitical hopes of the West and their ally Saudi Arabia, another key player in the anti-Russia axis.
The axis’ strategy appears to be that with the increase in the cold war type tensions, Russia would increase its military budget and this may sooner or later lead to an economic crisis which in turn would lead to the overthrow of the Putin government by a popular uprising. A similar strategy led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia is not unaware of the undercurrents of the diplomatic drama. Putin being a veteran in the spy business could smell an oncoming missile even before it is fired.
He was not so naïve as not to know that the West made use of an incident similar to the Skripal saga to bolster Nato manoeuvres near Russia in 2007.
This was after the death of FSB (Russia’s spy agency) defector Alexander Litvinenko. He was poisoned by a Russian agent in a London cafe in November 2007. Later he died in a London hospital. The incident triggered a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats by Moscow, London and Washington. The following year, the West wooed Georgia to sign a defence pact with Nato. Obviously, this made Russia livid. The same year, Russia sent troops into the then Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in support of the anti-government rebels.
In 2014, the US engineered a coup in Ukraine, replacing a pro-Russian president with a pro-West president. In response, an angry Russia annexed Crimea and provided military assistance to separatist rebels in the eastern regions of Ukraine.
In November, 2016 while world attention was on the US presidential election, Nato sent reinforcements – four battle groups -- to Russia’s borders. Britain sent tanks, drones and 800 troops to Estonia as part of this Nato build-up. In anticipation of this buildup, Russia had deployed its nuclear-weapons capable Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad near the Polish border and fortified its defences in the Black Sea region. There is not much love lost between London and Moscow. Putin sees Britain as a hostile nation, because London provides shelter to several high-profile Russian dissidents, who, Putin believes, are plotting to destabilise Russia with help from the West.
In a striking parallel, weeks before the current dispute between Britain and Russia blew up, Putin, in an apparent warning to the West, unveiled Russia’s latest armoury, displaying hypersonic fighter jets and smart missiles that can dodge any anti-missile system and hit a target anywhere in the world.
Putin has now been reelected to power and he knows how to stay on in power for years or decades to come, notwithstanding the constitutional restrictions on the presidential term. This has sent jitters across western capitals. They know Putin’s ambition of making Russia a superpower again will be a threat to the West’s global agenda. The cold war will intensify while world peace will become elusive.