Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

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Protesters hold protest signs denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin near the Russian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York in 2015. (Reuters)

The really interesting question in the recent poisoning case in the UK is not if the Russian Government is implicated – it looks highly likely (see below) – but why they would perform such an act now.

When trying to understand the context, two factors are key in our view.

Firstly, Russia is in an expansionist phase, constantly testing the resolve of the West to resist it.

Recent examples are many and varied. Russia is firmly in the camp of rogue state in terms of its murderous support of the Assad regime in Syria, as it seeks to expand its influence in the Middle East. It continues to agitate against the Ukraine, maintains a threatening posture against the newly independent Baltic states, and threatens the USA with a “new generation” of nuclear missiles.

Secondly, Putin is up for re-election. He is a populist “strongman”, and that’s why his rule is virtually unchallenged, although factions within the ruling elite in Russia do exist, and jockeying for power in the event of any departure by Putin is constant. In this, Russia has hardly evolved from the days of communist control, or frankly, the Tsars.

Viewed in this light, the murder of a minor spy who has been quietly living in the West for some time – which would be re-reported in Russia, of course – serves two purposes.

It tests the West’s resolve to resist brazen Russian aggression without risking an armed conflict.

Second, it makes Putin look tough. Again.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson thus faces a serious test. If the attempted murder (or it may turn out to be a triple murder, depending on the health of those most affected) turns out to be very obviously to be laid at the feet of the Russian State, what is an appropriate response?

Will the British worry overmuch about the unpleasant despatch of a spy – deaths in that arena happen constantly, of course – and the unfortunate collateral damage of a Wiltshire policeman? Or will they make a lot of huff and puff and do nothing much?

Our money is on nothing much. Perhaps a few diplomats expelled and a strongly worded note.

The British economy – especially the City of London – increasingly depends on the growing petro-dollar and gas-dollar influx of funds “washed” through banks and finance houses in London. And funds from less obvious sources inside the Russian kleptocracy. Putin knows Britain wouldn’t want anything to upset that, especially when complications from Brexit means those funds could easily get switched to other markets. So this event tests how brazen Russian behaviour can be before any real damage is done to the relationship.

Ordinarily, of course, the Brits would turn to their American colleagues for advice on how to handle this latest “Beast from the East” event. (The “Beast from the East” was the nickname given to the recent blast of cold air from Russia that dumped snow everywhere.) But given the inordinately close relationship between Putin and the Trump administration, we feel it is unlikely that Britain will turn there for help and advice. And relations between Britain and the EU aren’t exactly rosy just now either.

Putin is, unlike his American counterpart, a highly calculating man. We believe he may be testing the UK right now simply because it is increasingly isolated and left to its own resources. Simply to see what happens.

How Johnson responds will be fascinating to watch.

THE BBC’s latest reporting follows:

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon and remain critically ill.

A police officer who was the first to attend the scene is now in a serious condition in hospital, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said.

Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that stop the nervous system working and shut down bodily functions.

They normally enter the body through the mouth or nose, but can also be absorbed through the eyes or skin.

Mr Rowley, head of Counter Terrorism Policing, said government scientists had identified the agent used, but would not make that information public at this stage.

“This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder, by administration of a nerve agent,” he said.

“Having established that a nerve agent is the cause of the symptoms… I can also confirm that we believe that the two people who became unwell were targeted specifically.”

He said there was no evidence of a widespread health risk to the public.

Two other police officers who attended the scene were treated in hospital for minor symptoms, before they were given the all clear. It is understood their symptoms included itchy eyes and wheezing.


By Richard Galpin, BBC News correspondent – formerly based in Moscow

The announcement by the police that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are the victims of an attack in which a nerve agent was used makes the parallel with the poisoning of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 even stronger.

Like the radioactive polonium used to kill Litvinenko, a nerve agent is not normally something criminal gangs or terrorist groups can make.

Instead, it is usually manufactured by specialist laboratories under the control of governments – and that inevitably means suspicion will now be very much focused on Russia.

Not only does it have a track record of using poisons to assassinate its enemies, there is also a motive in the case of Sergei Skripal.

As a military intelligence officer in Russia, he betrayed his country by providing information to MI6, reportedly revealing the identities of Russian agents in Europe. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has in the past indicated that traitors deserve to die.

Although the question remains, why would Mr Skripal be attacked now when he has been living in Britain for eight years and came here originally as part of a spy swap?

Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped on a bench outside the Maltings shopping centre.

Police want to speak to anyone who was in the city centre on Sunday afternoon.

They are particularly keen to hear from people who ate at Zizzi or drank in The Bishop’s Mill pub between 13:00 and 16:00 GMT.

Both of those locations remain closed to the public.

There is also a cordon in place outside Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home. A yellow forensic tent has been erected and police have been seen carrying equipment into the building.

Mr Rowley said hundreds of detectives, forensic specialists, analysts and intelligence officers were working round the clock on the case.

The investigation in Salisbury may take several more days, he added.

Prof Malcolm Sperrin, fellow of the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine, said: “Symptoms of exposure to nerve agents may include respiratory arrest, heart failure, twitching or spasms – anything where the nerve control is degraded.

“Nerve agents can cause death, but not necessarily at low-level exposure or with a minor dose.”

Alastair Hay, emeritus professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds, added: “These are very difficult and dangerous chemicals to make.”

Sergei Skripal and his daughter YuliaImage copyright EPA/ YULIA SKRIPAL/FACEBOOK
Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, collapsed on a bench in Salisbury city centre

A public inquiry concluded the killing of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 was probably carried out with the approval of President Putin.

On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs the UK would respond “robustly” to any evidence of Russian “state responsibility” in the Skripal case.

Russia has insisted it has “no information” about what could have led to the incident, but is open to co-operating with British police if requested.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said foreign media had used the incident as part of an anti-Russian campaign.

“It’s a traditional campaign. The tradition is to make things up. We can only see it as a provocation,” she said.

Who is Sergei Skripal?

Undated image taken from the internet of Sergei Skripal in uniform.
Col Skripal, 66, had been living in Salisbury after being released by Russia in 2010

Colonel Skripal, a retired Russian military intelligence officer, was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006.

He was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.

In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI.

After a Cold War-style spy swap at Austria’s Vienna airport, Col Skripal moved to Salisbury, where he kept a low profile for eight years.


The Guardian reports that the Mayor of London (and probably Britain’s most popular Conservative politician, a possible replacement for Prime Minister David Cameron) has issued a strong condemnation of the former prime minister’s views on the Middle East.

Boris JohnstonBoris Johnson, (seen left) said the former prime minister is unhinged in his attempt to rewrite history and is undermining arguments for western intervention in Iraq, the London mayor claimed in an extraordinary personal attack on the former Prime Minister. (Photograph: Stuart C Wilson/Getty)Blair took to the media over the weekend to make the case for a tough response to the extremist insurgency in Iraq, insisting it was caused by a failure to deal with the Syria crisis rather than the 2003 US-led invasion which he helped to instigate.His intervention was met with widespread criticism from Labour figures and others as extremists posted pictures apparently showing the killing of dozens of Iraqi soldiers by jihadist fighters.

In his condemnation of Blair the London Mayor accused the ex-Labour leader of having sent British forces into the bloody conflict in part to gain personal “grandeur”.

Exactly echoing what we said a couple of days ago, Johnson said in his Daily Telegraph column that Blair and then-US president George Bush had shown “unbelievable arrogance” to believe toppling Saddam Hussein would not result in instability which resulted directly to the deaths of 100,000 Iraqis and hundreds of British and American troops. In fact, the figure of Iraqi losses is well over 500,000, according to a range of impeccable sources.

He suggested there were “specific and targeted” actions that could be taken by the US and its allies to deal with latest threat – as Barack Obama considers a range of military options short of ground troops.

But he said that by refusing to accept that the 2003 war was “a tragic mistake”, “Blair is now undermining the very cause he advocates: the possibility of serious and effective intervention.

“Somebody needs to get on to Tony Blair and tell him to put a sock in it, or at least to accept the reality of the disaster he helped to engender. Then he might be worth hearing,” Johnson concluded. And he is exactly right.

Unhinged? You be the judge.

Unhinged? You be the judge.


As to whether Blair is actually unhinged, we couldn’t possibly say. But there is something about the messianic glare that overcomes his eyes when he is defending his position that we find quite disturbing to watch.

The row over the events of 11 years ago came amid suggestions of serious atrocities being committed in the militants’ advance.

Taking on critics in an eight-page essay on his website, Blair rejected as “bizarre” claims that Iraq might be more stable today if he had not helped topple Saddam.

The former premier – now a Middle East peace envoy – said Iraq was “in mortal danger”, but pinned the blame on the sectarianism of the al-Maliki government and the spread of Syria’s brutal three-year civil war, not on the instability created by the West’s invasion of Iraq.

“The choices are all pretty ugly, it is true,” he wrote in a push for military intervention – though not necessarily a return to ground forces. “But for three years we have watched Syria descend into the abyss and as it is going down, it is slowly but surely wrapping its cords around us, pulling us down with it. We have to put aside the differences of the past and act now to save the future. Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force. Every time we put off action, the action we will be forced to take will be ultimately greater.”

Former foreign minister and United Nations Depity Secretary-general Lord Malloch Brown urged Blair to “stay quiet” because his presence in the debate was driving people to oppose what might be the necessary response.

Clare Short, one of a number of MPs who quit Blair’s cabinet over the 2003 invasion, said he had been “absolutely, consistently wrong, wrong, wrong” on the issue, and opposed more strikes.