Hildegarde The Arena
THE global political landscape is changing. What seemed unthinkable yesterday looks like it will soon be the new normal. Take presidential term limits for example. While the West would want to cast aspersions on China’s President Xi Jinping, who started his second term early this week after China’s National People’s Assembly voted overwhelmingly to abolish term limits, and also at Russia’s President Vladmir Putin, who was re-elected with a landslide on Sunday, the West either has amnesia or they just want to be hypocritical.
It seemed inconsequential that Germany’s Angela Merkel has also won her fourth term in office as Chancellor (Prime Minister), becoming one of the longest-serving leaders in Europe in the 21st century.
When it also seems likely that stability can be a reality in Asia, which is the most populous part of the world, including on the Korean Peninsula, all these gains are diverted by a sideshow in England.
A Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were on March 4 exposed to a nerve agent, in Salisbury, Southern England.
They are reportedly fighting for their lives, but what is now at centre stage is not how it happened, but who is behind the poisoning.
The manner in which British politicians and their Western allies have jumped to point accusatory fingers at Russia, and President Putin in particular, is no different from what we have seen over the years when there is an alleged terror attack on Western soil.
The norm is that if the alleged perpetrator is not of American and/or European origin, conclusions are quickly drawn that it was a terrorist act by an Islamic militant.
These claims are made without evidence. Thus the rest of the world is used to this stereotypical profiling that is done to achieve certain agendas.
The Skripal case becomes another game changer between Russia and the West. In so short a time, the UK and its allies had pieced together the “evidence” and arrived at the conclusion that Russia was responsible.
International law was disregarded, including the fact that there is a United Nations body – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – responsible for overseeing such matters.
The rhetoric criss-crossed the UK, Europe and the Americas, starting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, who worked with more dexterity than she has been doing on the Brexit issue, to ensure that the Skripal poisoning was debated in the British parliament.
She also ensured that the issue was discussed by the United Nations Security Council and the European Union in Brussels.
The British Prime Minister reiterated her claims that Russia was the culprit: “They have the capability. This nerve agent was one from a group of Novichoks that were developed by the Soviets,” May said.
She added, “Russia has the capability and, I believe, the motive and intent and this is part of a pattern of behaviour we see from Russia across Europe.”
That Russia continued to deny any involvement in the poisoning saga has meant very little as they are forced to accept the inevitable.
Russia has requested that they have access to the samples, but it has yielded no results as they should remain guilty as charged.
What does this panic mode and standoff say about Putin? Is the West scared of the reality they are faced with – an Asian continent under great leaders (Xi and Putin), and that Asia’s stability will mean that they can become a formidable force that would compete with the West: technologically, economically and militarily?
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson seemed like someone running scared on Monday when he was in Brussels for EU talks as he chided: “The Russian denial is increasingly absurd. This is a classic Russian strategy . . . They’re not fooling anybody anymore,” Johnson said, adding, “There is scarcely a country around the table here in Brussels that has not been affected in recent years by some kind of malign or disruptive Russian behaviour.”
However, Russian officials, from the highest to the lowest, maintained their country was not responsible.
President Putin, basking in the glory of electoral victory, told them the allegations were “complete drivel, rubbish, nonsense that somebody in Russia would allow themselves to do such a thing ahead of elections and the World Cup.”
Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesperson, also vowed: “Sooner or later these unsubstantiated allegations will have to be answered for: either backed up with the appropriate evidence or apologised for.”
The elections have come and gone, and soon Russia will host the FIFA World Cup, and the May government is already saying that members of the royal family might not attend.
There are also attempts to make the English team boycott this football event.
Probably Russia’s accusers never realised that it was alive to the fact that you don’t cut off the nose to spite the face, meaning that you do not engage in “needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem”.
They know very well their topsy-turvy relationship with the West – sometimes promising to be good and all of a sudden getting dangerous. The end-result – diplomatic standoffs.
Although there was a long-drawn Cold War where they played dangerous games with each other, one would want to understand what happened when at one point the West and its various groupings such as the G8 kicked out Russia. Is a Russia with Putin at the helm a threat to the West?
Here are some markers to this relationship after the collapse of the Soviet Union: Non-Russian members of the G8 on March 24, 2014 cancelled a meeting to be held in Sochi and suspended Russia’s membership.
Russia had joined the G7 group of nations in 1998.
Sochi had been the venue for the controversial 2014 Winter Games where there were calls to send teams, but boycott the Games.
The relationship became more difficult after Russia annexed Crimea.
And it was in Crimea that Putin got more than 90 percent of the vote at the weekend.
Sanctions are being imposed willy-nilly, and it is evident that the West wants Russia to be isolated.
The on-going probe in the United States of Russia meddling in its 2016 elections is another example of how desperate they have grown to prove that Russia must be a pariah state.
Billions of dollars are being spent to prove that Russia, using social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter, which are already under probe, interfered in the US electoral system, leading to Hillary Clinton losing to Donald Trump.
The absurdity of the case is such that US media claimed yesterday that President Trump’s security advisors had asked him not to congratulate President Putin on his electoral victory.
The claim is that they wrote him a note “DO NOT CONGRATULATE PUTIN” (in caps), but Trump did the exact opposite.
In a Press conference aired on CNN, Trump says he congratulated the Russian leader, and they spoke about the possibility of a meeting in the near future, to discuss, among other issues – the arms race.
But it was former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, whose remarks about Russia poisoning the ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, that made interesting reading.
According to RT, the former envoy “detailed a claim first made in his blog, that the language around London’s accusation against Moscow has been very carefully formulated”.
The statement continues: “Murray asserted that a linguistic formula was agreed upon, which labelled the nerve agent used in the poisoning as ‘a type developed by Russia’.”
“The blogger detailed that ‘exactly the same formulation’ was used in a NATO communiqué, Theresa May’s address to Parliament, the UK statement to the UN Security Council, and was contained in a recent EU statement.
“They’ve never said this nerve agent was made in Russia, (or) was produced in Russia, (or) was manufactured in Russia.”
The diplomat also questioned why UK journalists never asked this important question: “Can you confirm that this was definitely made in Russia?”
Meanwhile, another school of thought says there is a deliberate move to have the United Nations reformed, but this time, the reforms would be targeting Russia so that it is pushed out of the UN Security Council.
How a UNSC permanent member with veto power can just be elbowed out remains to be seen.