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As it is revealed that British policemen in country towns have indeed risked a hideous death at the hands of Moscow agents, in Milne’s shoes I would urge Corbyn to find a form of words suggesting the maximum amount of displeasure compatible with a lifetime’s dogged credulity about the Russian past and present on the one hand, while leaving an opening for fruitful cooperation in the future, since that is what Corbyn in power would undoubtedly seek.

The re-election of Putin with a sound majority reminds us that condemnation of the regime in Britain and abroad for attempted murder has done it no damage in the eyes of the Russian voters, perhaps the contrary. What happened in Salisbury is a lesson in historical continuity, and in the absence of a civil society worth the name in Russia. Government assassinations are part of the Russian tradition, Tsarist as well as communist. Like the KGB the Okhrana would track opponents abroad and occasionally kill them.

In post-communist times, the logic continues. Now that traitors are more likely to be motivated by money rather than ideology, it is imperative for the Kremlin to show its enemies, whether renegade oligarchs, whistleblowers or intelligence turncoats that, as Putin himself has put it, they will not live to enjoy their gains; a reminder that condign punishment for betrayal is a personal passion for a man steeped in security and intelligence traditions. Even if it transpires that the Kremlin was not initially behind the latest instance, the fact that something so primitive can occur reflects the atmosphere the regime and Putin himself have engendered. Ironically, the extraordinary bungling behind both this and the Litvinenko murder do not reflect well on the professionalism of the Russian intelligence services, endlessly vaunted by Putin.

Their esprit de corps is a central plank of the regime, and the nature of Skripal’s treachery — apparently he sold the names of GRU agents — could be important. If I were one of them and unable to enjoy life in the West again, aggrieved to see the traitor living quietly in Britain, I would want something done. And if the Kremlin did indeed instigate the attempted murder in disregard of the convention over swapped spies with the election in mind, then that would be a reminder that Putin is capable of anything to secure his domestic popularity. Were I a Balt I would take note. And were I a Russian living abroad, especially but not only in Britain, I would draw consequences too.

As for Britain herself, we are a medium-sized state with increasingly friable alliances, whether with Europe or the United States, a massive Russian presence (450 millionaires), and a country where for historic reasons going back to our attempted intervention in the Russian Civil War intelligence matters loom larger than they should in the Russian mind. As we are presently seeing in the less than full-throated support we are getting from allies, there is no excess of respect abroad for an unstable British government or its Foreign Secretary — for Britain an unusual position. Indeed, one of the motives for the Salisbury attack may have been the perceived weakness of Britain, as well as equanimity about its powers of retaliation.
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Julian Pardoe
May 1st, 2018
9:05 AM
This is really a question for GW. Is there a reference for the story about "Russian children maturing quickly"? I put it to an acquaintance who studies the history of the PCF and he was doubtful. It would be of interest to us both to have a date or some other way of verifying it.

Peter Kolding
April 1st, 2018
3:04 AM
The author warns against any nationalist tendencies in Western policy to counter the threat of Russia and China. Yet he ignores entirely that the strength of both these countries has always depended upon the unifying strength of nationalism. The Russians have always fought for Russia first, the Chinese have always been Chinese, the inheritors of the Middle Kingdom. The West, on the other hand, has dedicated itself to 'post-nationalism' and looks upon national loyalty in consumerist terms. (Look at Brexit, with all the rage centred not on the peace and tranquillity that democracy is supposed to promise, but economic advantage instead.) In short, the East is supported by a fundamental loyalty from its people. While the West, a mercenary contract. This is important because the East has retained its populations' loyalty even after suffering millions of deaths at its own governments' hands. The West, on the other hand, cannot even control its borders without being condemned and subverted by much of its own population, without the least concern for the interests of their countries. Worse, in response, their governments take the path of appeasement and slowly, but surely, lose territorial control. It is this loss of territorial control in the West, caused by the policies demanded by post-nationalist ambitions, that have provoked the imperialist designs of Russia and China into action. The argument of the author that it's the personalities of Putin and Xi that propels their actions, but it is the territorial weakness of the West that has allowed this. The West, and especially Europe, has built a society that for all intents and purposes is made up and designed for the exercise of power by an assortment of fifth-columnists-in-waiting. The signal for treachery is simply a refusal by the government to devolve territorial authority to them. Currently, these politically powerful identity groups are happy to allow a limited power of arbitration to the government. But with the example of Corbyn, we see them exercising a far more direct demand for mercenary power. It may be an archaic observation to the post-nationalist mind, but God is always on the side of the big battalions. And the West is determined to be ruled by small tribes and gangs.

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