Will Russophobia cost us Brexit?
Will Russophobia cost us Brexit?
People believe what they are inclined to believe. Princes believe what it is prudent to believe.
I will argue that hostility with Russia means Brexit Britain will be at war on two fronts. When Trump is replaced by a Clintonite, that will make three fronts. Brexit is not winning on the single Brussels front. I will also explore the possibility that there is method in May's apparent madness and this current "Salisbury" crisis could in fact actually save Brexit.
Let us leave aside speculation about just what happened in Salisbury to this Russian spy, this retired double agent Sergei Skripal, his daughter and a policeman. We will probably never know. Was it official Russians, unofficial Russians or one of the many with an interest in provoking hostility against Russia - of which there are enough on both sides of the Atlantic?
We cannot know now since what evidence we think we have is unreliable. One of the few things we can say we know is that the evidence which we have will be distorted by propagandists. The only safe ground is to be honestly unsure.
The British government has decided that it wants these events to be the deeds of Russians under the orders of VV Putin. It has a desire that it be so.
It might desire otherwise. I will admit, I desire it to be otherwise. Why? Because I live near the border with Russia and on my land there was fighting in the Second World War. Nearby where I live is Kautla. For me the idea of war with Russia is not a war on the TV, the way Iraq was for most western people. For its supporters, Iraq was only a war on TV, only TV deaths. Only really Iraqi deaths. I would prefer it if there were no war with Russia. I do not even want a Cold War where only people's livlihoods are harmed. I would go as far as to say that the recovery of Russia since Soviet times is not so easy as for Estonia or for Czechia. Modernity, democracy, is not even recovery but a new invention for itself in Russia. Ukraine is a failed state. Bylorus not much better than a Stalinist dictatorship. But Russia is becoming a Christian country striving to a new modernity. I would go as far as to say that, considering the alternatives, history will judge Putin well. Personally I do not have much to do with Russians but Putin has done for Russia what Margaret Thatcher did for Britain: he has given a nation it's dignity back. Some people in the "West" seem to think Russia should be allowed no dignity and only a Yeltsin in his later years is acceptable. You cannot deal with a nation like Russia unless there is honour between you. OK, I offer you my position not to convince you but just so you know where I stand.
So what about May's government? Am I really suggesting that they could decide to believe something more prudent than a Russophobic or at least accusatory stance?
Yes, I am. They do this all of the time.
Just last week there was the story of an explosion in Leicester. It killed a few people. Killed as in dead not just taken to hospital. The names of the people involved, who had come from around the country, all happened to be names from a particular community sometimes associated with a wave of terrorist attrocities in recent years. But we are told that the police found no evidence what-so-ever that it was terrorist-related. It was, according to the Ministry of Truth, not a terrorist bomb accident at all. It was one of those non-terrorist bombs. Probably not even a bomb at all but just an innocent hobby explosion. Just a very bad souffle experience. This is what the Governement has chosen to believe and it is what we are told to believe and it is what we do dutifully believe. All kinds of occaissions we hear about where a certain kind of person drives a van into some other kind of people are described as not terror-related. There just happens to be a bit of a spate of particularly unusual road traffic accidents.
Why do they make this choice? Because it is prudent. If certain facts, if certain opinions would lead to anger and action then the government might well decide to suppress these facts and interpretations because if they did not there would be violence, disorder and even bloodshed. This would not do. So the government decides we should all believe whatever keeps order. Because order is more important than truth.
The government could have not made a big news event out of the illness of two people in Salisbury, three with the policeman. It could have made all kinds of choices. But they decided to make it a really big show. They decided to use the kind of odd language which tells you something stange is being told: an attack on innocent British people. They are not British and retired Lubyanka secret service types are not innocent. He was not just Russian secret services, which puts him in the frame for blood-on-hands status but he was a traitor. Such KGB/FSB secret service people are not innocent. The only people less innocent are Telford social services.
He was in Britain as part of a deal. His protection was Vladimir Putin's word. Putin lives by his word, his authority with all the countries who watch Syria is that Putin can be relied upon where the Americans cannot. That is what it would mean if Russia really was behind Salisbury: that Putin's word is not worth what we thought.
But May has chosen this path and where will it lead us? People in Britain are already commenting that this is a distraction, that it takes our eyes away from Telford, away from Brexit negotiations and away from falling popularity in opinion polls. But it is not that May will distract us that matters. What does it matter where I am looking? It is that Theresa May will be distracted - that is the problem.
May has her attention stretched by the knavish tricks of the boys in Brussels. They have an experienced humiliation machine but the worries they inflict are as nothing to the change in toilet habits brought about by dealing with the kind of chess played by Putin and Lavrov. Some in the Conservative Party blame the poor perforance in opinion polls on the lack of attention to any other policy area than Brexit. May's government does not have the capacity to act on two fronts. If she is distracted by dealing with Moscow, Brussels will out flank and damage her.
Some people are already pointing out that Brussels has already started to exploit the situation by claiming it proves what a mistake Brexit is. Itis also likely to enhance May's inclination to a Brexit that leaves Britain in military and security structures of the EU.
The Brussels exploitation of this situation could be a lot worse. There will be a period from now and it may last a few days or a few weeks. This period will be defined by the space created by Putin still dealing with the surprise of these events. If those who suppose Putin had nothing what-so-ever to do with Salisbury are correct then all of this will have taken Putin by surpirse. Yes, he is a clever chap and will have the usual precautions in place and an immediate action drill well rehearsed. But he will not have in place the meticulous and detailed plans for which he is famous. That Putin did not order this (failed) assasination is what weakens Putin at home. It is the surprise that Russian people do not like. If you speak to real life, ordinary Russians in Russia just about the biggest criticisms they have of Putin is over the Euro-Maidan. While Putin was trying to charm the world at the Sochi games, the EU with US approval at least mounted an effective attack on Russian interests by deposing a goverment in Ukraine, installing a puppet government in quick time and requiring Putin to take hurried emergency action in Crimea. People reckon he was caught off guard. Putin is not meant to be off guard. Salisbury has also caught him off-guard. This will mean there is a phoney war period while Putin writes the next chapter of this tale.
In this period May will have some space to act but there are certain things she must do and initial indications would not point to success. Britain alone cannot do much to upset Russia. We can stop selling them old episodes of Top Gear, expel a few boys from Eton, organise a slow hand clap at some art galleries and that is about it. We could tell a few to take their money to Frankfurt but where is the fun in that?
May needs the boys in Brussels to back her up. As lovable and as loyal to us as Britain's dear freinds like Guy Verhofstadt are, there will be an incredible strategic temptation to leave May isoalated, battered and weakened . She will be even more at their mercy during negotiations. The sanctions the EU has against Russia are already hurting sectors such as EU agriculture and many areas of manufacturing to very little effect in Russia. The appetetite for more pain just to help May save face cannot be strong. Why would they want the problems of wars on two fronts? Leave that kind of stupidity to May.
Of US policy, action and involvement it is difficult to comment. At least with Russia we know the names of the people in charge and while in Russia not all elements are under total control the problem is nothing compared with the chaos of the Washington swamp.
May is weak. She is weak in herself and, by messing up the elction, has put herself into a weak position. Weak leaders in weak positions get desperate and do erratic things in order to look tough. She may think that she looks tough in Brussels now she has been rude to Russia. V V Putin may show some Christian charity towards May. After all he has not always been the renowned statesman he is today. When he first became president he arranged a series, almost a rota, of crises abroad in order to secure his position in Russia. We remember the Bronze Soldier crisis here in Estonia . Putin does not need to do silly little things like that anymore - but May does. Maybe Putin will forgive her. The t-shirt says he is a polite and patient man. Let's hope so because the problem is that, in weakness, May has committed herself too much to one course and possibly will find it impossible to manouever out of this. Putin might offer her a way, as he offered the Turk a way after they shot down a Russian fighter. But that is a way May will not want to take as it is a way that ends in Putin's debt and that means in his pocket .
When Putin had his series of foreign crises they were well planned. He planned the beginning, middle and end. I cannot help but fear that May has only planned the beginning.
Could there be method in May's madness?
Yes, there could. Brexit is open tot eh criticism that it is, in self, to oinsipid to triumph. Whereas the men who brought down teh USSR dreamt of exactly that, Brexit only thinks to leave. This idea is neither noble, in that it leaves others to suffer, nor strategic, in that it leaves a single power dominant over all of Europe the prevention of which has been the basis of British foreign policy ever since there was such a thing. May's idea of Brexit wishes to be supportive of the EU and friendly with it. This misunderstands the necessary hostility of an EU threatened to its existence by Brexit.
May's European policy has not even had as an objective an alliance with Poland, Hungary etc to reduce the authority and power of the EU over its provinces to something comparable with the Holy Roman Empire.
Of its own accord the situation has changed and the EU is in open hostility, aggression to use Viktor Orban's word, against Poland and Hungary and maybe some others. The Italian elections have brought rebellion to life there. WIth May doing not much, she has a massive opportunity for Brexit Britain because these countries can break the Brussels hegemony. Generally, those countries who were once under the domination of the EU are nothing if not Russophobic. It goes back further, back to 1385, back further. In defence terms. Britain is already their champion. For many people east of the Oder, Russia is the only justification of the EU. Britain as Russophobe-in-chief could be very popular indeed. When it comes to cutting a trade deal with the EU, the votes of countries who do not share the EU imperial ambition but are interested in business will mean everything.
There is, of course, a snag. People are not stupid. People in former Soviet dominated countries have no great affection for Russia but they have sufficient folk-memory to know that conflicts with Russia happen on their soil and tend to be harmful to them. In the long run, their peace relies on Russia continuing towards modernity, stability and affluence - normality. Dabbling amateurs knocking Russia back into barbarism only leaves them with the ugliest of ugly neighbours.
In conclusion it looks like May has made a dangerous gamble in order to change her image as a weak leader. A war on two fronts. Rather than establish authority in Brussels, she is even more vulnerable to their whim as she has put herself in need of their help. She has made another distracting and debilitating commitment for her already over-stretched resources. She needs to find a way out of this situation before Moscow provides one for her. While it will enhance her image with Tory party yahoos, but not he general public, she will not gain the power she needs in Brussels and that makes her Brexit position even more precarious.