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Renewing Russophobia

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By: Murtaza Shibli

Sergei Skripal, a former British-Russian double agent, and his daughter Yulia’s alleged poisoning by a nerve agent has been used to foment a new escalation against Russia amid an already increased Russophobia fanned by the Western corporate, state-capitalist media and governments in collaboration with their military and spying industrial complexes for quite some time now.

This new war narrative that has been in the making for several years, with a vigorous push in the last couple of years, is borrowing the cold war language and tone to increasingly describe Russia as the new threat. The display of rage across the West over the poisoning incident fits well within the new worldview that has been envisaged and actively encouraged by the US and its military alliance, Nato.

In mid-January, the Trump administration’s National Defence Strategy formally designated “inter-state strategic competition … [as] … the primary concern in US national security”. According to a recent commentary in Foreign Policy, this “means that China and Russia are now the top priority for defence planners, not the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, or self-directed terrorists living in the US”. Foreign Policy stated that the shift in the strategy was being welcomed by the Pentagon, which “is a bit too excited about the return of great-power rivalry”. The primary aim of this calculated new shift is to deny and destroy any Russian (and, by default, Chinese) influence in central and south Asia as well as the Middle East in order to control the new energy resources and corridors.

Sixty-six-year-old Sergei was a former Russian military intelligence colonel who had been a long-time asset of MI6, the British intelligence agency. In December 2004, he was arrested and was found guilty in 2006 of passing state secrets to Britain. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail but was later released and exchanged in 2010 in a cold-war style spy swap between the US-UK combine and Russia. Since then, he was apparently leading a ‘normal’ life and was “busy with his cats and guinea pigs in his garden”, according his Russia-based niece Victoria.

However, his former associate, Valery Morozov, who also lived in exile in the UK, claimed that Skripal “was still working in cyber security” and was regularly in touch with military intelligence officers at the Russian Embassy in London. Morozov told Channel 4 News that he chose to distance himself from his old associate because of this as “it can bring some questions from British officials”.

He ruled out Russian involvement as the former double-agent was of no value to his former country. “There is nobody in Kremlin talking about [a] former intelligence officer who is nobody. There is no reason for this. It is more dangerous for them for such things to happen”. The evidence from Sergei’s personal life suggests that his family was able to freely visit Russia and the UK.

On Monday, in an act reminiscent of the UK’s infamous stance on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the ex-MI6 agent and his daughter were poisoned with “a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia”, which was identified as Novichok. Based on this, she concluded that Russian culpability in the attack was “highly likely”. Claiming that there was “overwhelming evidence” of Russian involvement, Boris Johnson, the foreign minister, asserted: “there’s something in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’ve heard from the Russians that indicates their fundamental guilt”.

On Wednesday, the UK announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, the largest such move since the cold war. This was followed by a joint statement from Germany, France, the UK and the US that pronounced Russia guilty on the basis that it was the “only plausible explanation”. Later, US President Trump offered further evidence by claiming that “it looks like” the act of Russians.

Amid all this madness of fantasy judgements, the only sane voice that is calling for caution is that of British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Despite a concerted smear campaign against him by the media to coerce him into joining the chorus to blame Russia, he stressed that “the case is a matter for [the] police and security professionals to determine”. He also warned against hasty judgements that could lead to a “new cold war of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent”.

The Euro-American joint statement also called on Russia to “address all questions related to the attack” and provide full disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The demand is ironic given that in 2017, the OPCW – the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention – certified that Russia had destroyed its entire chemical weapons programme, including its nerve agent production capabilities.

Disregarding the OPCW certification, the joint statement puts the onus on Russia to give away weapons that it had already destroyed under the guidance and collaboration with the OPCW. The script seems familiar to the Anglo-American hysteria on the non-existent Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Building the case against Russia, Boris Johnson claimed that “it is obvious Russia has illegally retained stocks of Soviet Chemical weapons”.

Interestingly, both Britain and the US have access to Novichok know-how that has been procured through Russian dissidents and scientists, including through their work of dismantling the Russian chemical weapons programme in the former USSR states. However, none of them have, to date, met their own OPCW compliance obligations.

The Western corporate media has advanced outlandish claims of Russian culpability without following the basic rules of critical inquiry, let alone any scrutiny of its plausibility. These media outlets are religiously following the official script to support Russian scapegoating to manufacture and amplify the anti-Russia rage that is needed to support the stated US goal of focusing attention on ‘inter-state strategic competition’, as enunciated by the Trump security policy earlier this January.

Framing the debate around the Skripals as a form of ‘Russian spy poisoning’ is an attempt to set a clear agenda to shape public opinion and influence the investigation process.

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