Slow stirrings but we are finally there. Russian imperialism that has often been nothing more than a nostalgic yearning for a return to the days of Soviet Union is now being realised by Britain.
The probability of Putin being behind the chemical weapons attack in Salisbury is high but that margin for doubt for some is yet definitive proof that this is simply more scaremongering towards Russia. It’s worth noting that scepticism towards false intelligence is not baseless but pretty reasonable, given what happened with the Iraq War.
But right now the evidence seems decisively pointed against Russia. The chemical agent that killed double agent Sergei Skripal is called novichok and according to the chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, was developed and produced in Shikhany, within a military research lab in central Russia.
The response of Britain has been a varying mix of the wild and the reasonable in reactions. So far, Russian diplomats have been expelled while there is a clamour to eject tycoons with links to Putin’s state apparatus from London, increasingly a tax haven for the super-rich.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has taken a position of waiting for investigations to unfold before making judgements. Many have – with some justification – argued that this is simply complying with the international laws set out by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Iraq War was a watershed moment in the history of interventions, so strongly now are they argued against for fear of essentially recreating that disaster elsewhere.
Many however would argue that there is dishonesty in Labour committing to waiting for the investigations but launching preemptively against the Russian tycoons who have turned London into a citadel for the super-wealthy. And history has shown that it will take a lot to nudge Corbyn from his position even when the findings emerge.
He called for the OPCW to investigate into Syria’s Khan Sheikhhoun and when they found that Assad was responsible for usage of chemical weapons, he has said or done nothing. His rhetoric regarding Syria has ignored evidence and the power imbalances between regime and rebels, holding onto peace talks that crumbled years ago.
It’s debatable that Corbyn would even press for tough lines against Russia even if the evidence emerges. Many on the left often see stances against Russia as catalysts for war, reducing meaningful and significant policies as just aggression. This sort of hysteria from the left is absent where it concerns America. The inconsistency is frustrating for many, to say the least. It’s arguable that Corbyn uses words like “peace” and “diplomacy” as a translation for essentially doing little or nothing at all.
Labour’s splits here are increasingly apparent, with even Emily Thornberry distancing herself from the leader. How much of Labour’s foreign policy is geared towards Russian appeasement can be disputed but a key member of the leadership happens to be Seamus Milne, infamous for a history of apologies for the crimes of first Soviet Union and modern-day Russia.
Some on the left have a long history for this where it concerns Russia. Within international relations, there is a theory of constant anarchy where countries exist in a constant state of fear and survival, looking to weaken their rivals where possible. It’s the zero-sum game, often witnessed during the great arms-races of the 20th century. There are often certain powers around whom the world orbits. During the Cold War this was USA and USSR, and the existence of these twin superpowers would be described as a bipolar world. Since the fall of USSR however, USA have been left as the unchecked power, the world now becoming unipolar where they seemingly dictate. This unrivalled power, combined with a history of western overreach is greatly feared by many anti-war lefties who feel there should be some equality, a return to a multipolar world where power is shared between states. Therefore, they won’t criticise Russia as strongly because as far as they are concerned, the Russians are either a reactionary product of American aggression or needed to keep the latter in check. The reality is that Russia are able to pursue their imperial interests without facing genuine challenge.
There is a problem for the world, beyond Labour, that there are no red lines regarding chemical weapons. Obama failed to act and in doing so gave a green light to all regimes that usage of chemical agents to crack down on dissent will not be punished. Syria has repeatedly seen war crimes including use of chemical weapons with very little in the way of a response. This feels like the latest chapter in the international world being uncertain on how to deal with those guilty of it.