Things have heated up, from Syria to the UK, in the last weeks, even as there is a lull in the Korean peninsula. In the UN Security Council, the United States, with the voice of the grim-faced Nikki Haley once again threatened to attack the Syrian army and even Russian forces there if they did not stop their assault to retake Ghouta.
The story is that the US positioned its assets in that area strategically close to Damascus and they are getting bludgeoned by Assad’s forces and his Iranian and Russian allies. The Kremlin is avenging its irregular troops killed on 8 February near Deir es Zuhor by US fire and it sounds as if Moscow and Washington are already fighting, at least through their respective proxies. Concerned about the possibility of another larger and more lethal strike on vital assets of Russia or its allies President Vladimir Putin used his 1 March speech to warn about an array of very advanced weapons that could hit (US) targets anywhere in the world.
In Syria and Iraq, the US is trying to save its mercenary Islamic militias which change names according to the needs of the hour in order to remain “democratically” acceptable, but the opposite side is not buying those cosmetic operations. The habitual American tactic of training and arming takfiri militant organisations such as Al Qaeda (aka Al Nusra) and possibly Daesh, for carrying out asymmetric warfare, partly funded by the Gulf Arab monarchies, against opponents of the US has long been exposed.
As if on cue, a former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter fell victim to an apparent nerve gas attack in the quiet town of Salisbury. The British government wasted no time in accusing Putin personally. With characteristic aplomb, Westminster acknowledged that nothing had been proven yet, using leading terms such as “highly likely”, “of the type”, “probable”, while making it clear (wink, wink) that only the evil Russian President and his evil regime would have had a reason to commit such a dastardly murder.
Conveniently, London did not mention that the alleged nerve agents are available in various ex-Soviet countries and have almost certainly become accessible to certain criminal organisations, which is why the adamant affirmations of the rambunctious Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson inculpating Putin should be taken cum grano salis (bury).
According to Russian official sources, some of Novichok’s inventors after the USSR’s collapse were taken to the United States where they pursued their work and Moscow has accused the British of having at least samples of the same agents.
On Monday, 12 March, without waiting for the results of the investigation, Prime Minister Theresa May, speaking in Parliament gave the Kremlin a deadline of Tuesday night to admit that it had attempted to assassinate the unfortunate pair or else acknowledge that it had lost control of its illegal nerve agents stockpile which would give the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons a reason to declare Moscow in breach of international law and demand access to Moscow’s relevant facilities.
British MPs, with the exception of the beleaguered Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, jumped on the occasion to outdo each other in expressing their abhorrence of Russia and enumerating alleged wrongs, citing pell-mell terrorist attacks committed on Russian soil by Chechens, which strangely enough they imputed to the Russian government, and the “propaganda” allegedly dished out by the RT network some wanted to ban, all in the name of democracy and freedom of speech.
In their zeal they forgot to remind the world of the massacre of the Light Brigade at the Balaklava in 1854 and of the sinking of HMS Serapis by the Bon Homme Richard in 1779. (The latter man-of-war was commanded by the famous American privateer John Paul Jones, who later joined the Russian fleet). Anyhow, one could see there was no dearth of reasons for having it out with the Russians who had long slaughtered John Bull’s countrymen. There were subliminal echoes of the hymn Britannia rules the Waves and that other classic:
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too
We’ve fought the Bear before…
Another historical allusion could be made to the Sarajevo crisis in the summer of 1914, when the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife by a Serbian terrorist created the casus belli, which plunged Europe into five years of self-destructive mayhem. Pushed by some unseen ferociously belligerent forces, Theresa May all but gave Russia an ultimatum, which she knew could never be answered satisfactorily, leading to a dangerous escalation between the world’s major nuclear powers. For now Britain has expelled 23 Russian diplomats but other measures may be forthcoming, whereas Westminster so far refuses to provide elements of the case to the Russian government through the OPCW. The Skripal case thus looks like the allegations of Syrian chemical weapons use redux.
Given Trump’s ambiguous attitude to Putin’s government, the disarray in Washington and the current tug of war between Britain and the European Union, May’s gamble seems reckless. Does she hope to unite the country behind her by raising an existential threat to the nation? What embarrassing secrets lie beneath the apparently senseless high-profile attempted murder of the retired spy, designed to inflict damage on an entire neighbourhood?
The use of a Novichok nerve-agent in Salisbury bears all the signs of a provocation, possibly engineered by the people who may be behind the mysterious deaths of several Russians living in England in the last few years. Most of the victims had in common their opposition to Putin’s rule and London has now announced its decision to investigate at least 14 of these cases.
The United Kingdom has long offered asylum and some—clearly defective—protection to wealthy dissidents or defectors from the Russian Federation, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states; some of those exiles became generous donors to the ruling party. Did Her Majesty’s government get too closely involved with certain very unsavoury elements whose underworld operations were tolerated on the ground that they were “democratic” opponents of the “Russian strongman” or that they had been recruited by the UK’s intelligence agencies?
Similar charges against the Clinton Foundation and the clandestine financial network built up by the Clinton family are being investigated. The goal of the suspected financial powers at the heart of both scandals seems to be the intensification of the conflict between the Atlantic Alliance and Russia. Fingers have been pointed at a global “liberal-neoconservative” network including billionaires George Soros, Haim Saban and Bill Browder (cited in the House of Commons debate on the Skripal case as a “hero”) and various think-tanks such as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, recently exposed in an Al Jazeera documentary as an unregistered foreign lobbying agency.
Amidst the tumult of Donald Trump’s firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on 13 March, is another confusing move. The US President took his own administration by surprise when he grasped the opportunity to meet directly with Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a summit he is reported to have secretly suggested to Kim’s sister through his daughter Ivanka, when she travelled to Seoul for the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics.
Neo-conservatives hope that Tillerson’s removal and the appointment of anti-Iranian hawks Mike Pompeo and Gina Haspel to head Department of State and the CIA signal the White House’s will to raise the tensions with Iran and Russia, while liberals cheer the decision as the hammering of another nail in Trump’s coffin. The truth however may lie somewhere in between. Is Trump getting rid of those who don’t support his agenda for demolishing the system and does his secret diplomacy entail making dramatic settlements with the enemies which the deep state has painfully created and maintained?
The President’s desire to meet Kim, cutting through the diplomatic preparatory process reminds one of his quiet but seemingly aborted attempt to meet with Iran’s President in New York a few months ago.
A retort from the “swamp” to Trump’s rebellious attempts to rock the boat may have come in the form of the hit on Skripal in London. The British government has already cited the option of mobilising NATO by invoking the Alliance’s clause, which obliges all members to support any one of them under attack. Naturally, that would compel the US to declare Russia as an enemy. What better way, after the contrived case of “Russian meddling in the America political system”, to drag Trump into a disastrous confrontation which might sink his presidency?