At the time of writing, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, remain to be critically ill in hospital after collapsing outside a shopping centre. It is reported that the nerve agent Novichok made them ill and, having taken into account Mr Skripal’s fear that the Russian special services might ‘come after him at any time’, there is growing concern that the Russian state have attempted to assassinate a former operative (convicted of spying for Britain) on our soil.
One needs to cast the mind back to 2006, when Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radionuclide polonium-210, to realise that Russia have form for attacking Russians on British soil. You may recall, for example, that a Scotland Yard lawyer announced in 2015 that ‘the evidence suggests that the only credible explanation is in one way or another the Russian state is involved in Litvinenko’s murder.’ And who could forget Litvinenko’s posthumous statement naming Putin as responsible for his poisoning? Or Putin’s mocking declaration that ‘Mr Litvinenko is, unfortunately, not Lazarus’?
Theresa May’s response, in comparison to Corbyn’s pathetic and conciliatory one, has been swift. She has publicly reaffirmed the belief that the Russian state are personally responsible for the poisoning of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and has already seen to it that 23 Russian diplomats have been kicked out of the country.
Even if Putin is not directly responsible for this brazen attack on British soil, he is indirectly responsible. Why? Because he is one of the men responsible for making Russian defectors legally recognised as ‘legitimate targets for assassinations’ saying, when Skripal and ten other agents were exchanged in 2010, that these ‘traitors’ would ‘choke’ on their ’30 pieces of silver.’ Meaning, as Owen Matthews noted in this week’s Spectator, that a group of Russian spies could have assumed ‘a carte blanche to pursue traitors as they see fit’ – a concept with terrifying implications.
What we need, now more than anything, is a Thatcher-esque approach to this madness. Responsible, along with Reagan, for the end of the Cold War, Mrs Thatcher is a great symbol for the promotion of the liberty of the Russian people. What is stopping May embodying her spirit entirely, and giving Putin the firm slap down that he so desperately deserves?
The answer, of course, is weakness. Modern states are afraid of the big bad wolf of Russia, too afraid to make a firm stance against Her invasion of Ukraine or Her persecution of homosexuals or, to make this more relevant, Her murder of ex-Russians living in England. Gone are the days when we felt strong enough to say no, strong enough to tell them to shut up and sit down (of course, I do not mean this to be done quite so literally as Gavin Williamson decided was necessary.) Instead, we’ve been castrated (by choice) over the fear of what Russia could do.
Note the auxiliary verb. There’s nothing definite to say that Putin is going to lose his mind (if he hasn’t already) when (because it has to happen eventually lest we remain forever neutered) we declare that enough is enough. Instead, he uses the fear surrounding him and Russia’s potential to keep the international community at bay and, when he’s accused of blatantly breaking the law, he acts like a spoilt child, throwing his toys out of the pram and refusing to speak to anybody who might not give him the cookie that he so desires.
There are some who will say that we need Russia as an ally, and that the best thing to do is just keep Putin happy. The first part is the truth but the second part is far from it. Here we have a leader who manipulates us into allowing him to do whatever he wants, choosing to sit back and let him walk all over us like the ground beneath his feet. If we had a similar situation with a similar despot of the Middle East, there would be outrage. But, for whatever reason, everybody we insist on genuflecting to the His Majesty, His Royal Highness Vladimir Putin.
Now is the time to stand up to him, and make it quite clear that we will not tolerate this any longer. It is no longer acceptable to just sit idly by as he authorises the murder of people (either implicitly or explicitly) living in foreign lands, oversees the persecution of homosexuals, and invades wherever he sees fit. If Mr Putin wants to act like a child then let’s play by those rules. We can start by putting him on the naughty step.