Skipal case: Russian-Western relations reach new low

For many observers in both sides, the crisis and its increasing tensions confirm that the world is living a second Cold War of sorts of unpredictable consequences
The Skripal case: Russian-Western relations reach new low
Military in protective clothing prepare to remove vehicles from a car park in Salisbury, Britain - Photo: Neil Hall/EFE
06/04/2018
15:30
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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The relations between the Western allies and the Kremlin have reached a new low with the alleged poisoning of Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, and for many observers in both sides, the crisis and its increasing tensions confirm that the world is living a second Cold War of sorts of unpredictable consequences.

Amid a difficult Brexit transition and the decisive Russian military intervention that saved Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, Skripal, settled in the United Kingdom in 2010 under a spy swap program, was poisoned with an A-234Novichoknerve agent on March 4, 2018, according to Downing Street.

While Yulia, who was visiting him from Moscow, was responding well to treatment, no longer in a critical condition, “conscious and talking” at the Salisbury District Hospital on March 29, according to sources.

After the attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded an explanation from the Moscow government and announced the prompt expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation. Several allied countries, particularly the United States, followed suit and expelled around 130 Russian diplomats.

The U.S. administration also ordered Russia’s general consulate in Seattle to close, in the strongest action that it had taken against President Vladimir Putin’s government since coming to office last year.

Consequently, the Kremlin expelled 60 American diplomats and ordered the shut-down of the U.S. general consulate in Saint Petersburg.

It should be noted that within the nebulous field of espionage, back in 2006 Moscow was also accused of the poisoning and subsequent death of Russian defector and former officer of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Alexander Litvinenko in London, using radioactive polonium-210.

For its part, the pro-Western candidate and future Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned in 2004 with TCDD, the most potent dioxin contaminant in Agent Orange, a potent herbicide and defoliant chemical. Yushchenko suffered disfigurement as a result of the poisoning but has since made a full physical recovery.

Nine years later, the suicide of Russian oligarch and Putin’s former ally Boris Berezovsky exiled in Sunninghill, England, was questioned as well by local authorities and later declared an “open verdict,” after his daughter Elizaveta argued that he was attacked and hanged in his own house by unknown assailants.

List of questions

In the Skripal case, Moscow has denied all accusations, decrying them as a “provocation” on the eve of Putin’s reelection and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and thus, demanded proof from the British side.

On Sunday, its embassy in London sent a list of 14 questions to the UK Foreign Ministry, demanding it to reveal the details of the investigation.

Remarkably, several questions addressed the French role in the inquiry, the proper notification to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an agency associated to the United Nations, and the means used to determine the Russian origin of the “Novichok” nerve agent.

A similar list asking 10 questions, was sent to the French Foreign Ministry by the Russian embassy in Paris. According to the document, Moscow wants to know on what grounds France was involved in the investigation.

In Britain, the enquiries on both the investigation and the sudden improvement of Yulia Skripal—she and her father were found unconscious on a bench, “on the brink of death” according to preliminary reports —raised by opposition figures, such as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, are being used as a tool to strengthen May’s Tory government on patriotic and nationalist grounds.

However, in a mature democracy, proud of its freedom of speech among other long-standing values, the attempts to suppress and smear legit, dissident voices are inconceivable. It is worth remembering that the public skepticism in both sides of the Atlantic was justified by the blatant lies regarding Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” disseminated as a pretext to invade and occupy Iraq in 2003 under the Bush and Blair administrations.

One thing is now quite clear: there are tensions in crescendo and that is in no one’s interest. “I am really concerned. I think we are coming to a situation that is similar to a large extent to what lived during the Cold War”, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Antonio Guterres called for restoring Cold War communication mechanisms—for instance, “hotlines” set up between Washington and Moscow to avoid the risk of an armed conflict—yet the experienced Portuguese diplomat found “two important differences” between the 1948-1989 era and the current situation.

“In the Cold War, there were clearly two superpowers with a complete control of the situation in two areas of the world. But now we have many other actors that are relatively independent with a really important role in many of the conflicts that we are witnessing”, Guterres concluded.
 

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Edited by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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