President Vladimir Putin won his fourth presidential election at the weekend with an historic landslide vote. But notably, American and European leaders were reluctant to offer customary congratulations, indicating just how much the British authorities have managed to poison foreign relations with outlandish allegations of a Kremlin murder plot.
Putin won the Sunday election with nearly 77 per cent of the vote, with an official turnout of 67 per cent of eligible voters. Before the poll, there were widespread claims in Western news media that the election would be rigged in Putin’s favor.
Nevertheless, the convincing win is hard to discount as anything other than a confirmation of Putin’s leadership popularity. He is set to be in office for another six years, which will amount to a quarter century in power since his first election back in 1999.
On Monday, congratulations were sent from China’s Xi Jinping and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, as well as leaders from Iran, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba, among others. But it was remarkable the churlish absence of felicitations from Washington and European states – which would be normal protocol of foreign diplomacy.
Germany’s Angela Merkel, who also won a fourth term recently as Chancellor, reportedly delayed her compliments to Putin.
“Muted Western reaction to Putin’s victory,” headlined the BBC, which attributed the lack of congratulations to the alleged murder plot on British soil of an exiled Russian spy-turned-traitor.
“Tensions between Russia and the West have deepened in recent weeks after the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain. The UK government blamed the nerve agent attack on Russia,” reported the BBC.
Moscow has strenuously rejected official British claims of a Kremlin plot to assassinate Skripal who, along with his daughter, became ill on March 4 while sitting in a public park in his adopted English hometown of Salisbury.
The British authorities have come to a suspiciously rapid judgement that the pair were poisoned with an alleged Soviet-era chemical weapon known as “Novichok”. Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced in the House of Commons that it was “highly likely” the Russian state had carried out attempted murder, purportedly out of revenge for Skripal’s past betrayal. He was convicted by Russia of treason as a British double agent in 2004 and subsequently exiled to Britain in 2010. Why the Kremlin would want to exact revenge now at a sensitive time seems implausible, despite strident British speculation.
However, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson ratcheted up the rhetoric even further in recent days by claiming that President Putin had personally ordered the assassination. Johnson accused Moscow of making “absurd” denials, even though it is the British who arguably are behaving absurdly.
Over the weekend, Putin described the British allegations as “drivel” and “nonsense”. He said Russia was willing to cooperate with Britain in investigating the matter jointly. But, the Kremlin said, London has chosen the path of confrontation and is precluding reasoned dialogue by issuing sensationalist and unsubstantiated claims.
What is astounding is just how recklessly the British government and media are discarding any legal or diplomatic standards to evidently wage a propaganda war against Russia. Equally astounding is how willing Washington and European states have rowed in behind the British to trash international norms.
The British government has not produced any verifiable evidence to support its claims of detecting the supposed Soviet-era nerve agent. It’s a claim that remains simply that. A claim.
We also have not been given any confirmation on the exact health condition of the Skripal father and daughter. In yet another audacious breach of diplomatic norms, the Russian authorities appear to have been denied consular contact with one of its citizens, 33-year-old Yulia Skripal, who had flown from Moscow to visit her father on the weekend of the apparent poisoning.
Sergei Skripal (66) had been living in England for eight years after he was exiled in a spy-swap with Britain’s military intelligence MI6, for whom he had worked as a double agent. He is understood to have been given British citizenship.
Russian authorities should at least be allowed consular access to Yulia to confirm her whereabouts and her exact health status – more than two weeks after the Salisbury incident.
Arguably, she is in effect being detained by British authorities. We can imagine the furore if the situation were in reverse. That is, if a British citizen were somehow taken into custody while visiting a relative in Russia, and for the British authorities to be denied consular contact with its citizen.
The wholly bizarre situation in England regarding the Skripals is rationalized and “normalized” merely on the basis of unverified British claims that Russian state agents tried to carry out an assassination.
The reprehensible rush to judgement by the British preempts a thorough criminal investigation into what happened in Salisbury on March 4. Still, the British rush to judgement and breach of international norms has been fully supported by Washington and European governments.
Last week, the US, France and Britain issued an unprecedented joint statement along with Britain condemning Russia for the attempted murder of the Skripals.
On Monday, the European Union also delivered a public statement of “solidarity” with the United Kingdom over the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. “The European Union takes extremely serious the UK government’s assessment that the Russian Federation is responsible,” said the EU statement.
It is clear that Washington and the European Union are relying totally on Britain’s “briefing”. In other words, they are relying on the unverified British version of events, instead of a legal standard of due process, criminal investigation, verifiable evidence, and diplomatic protocol. Britain’s conduct is that of a bandit-state.
Britain’s top diplomat Boris Johnson arrived in Brussels on Monday morning where he met with the foreign ministers of the 27 other EU member states, as well as the bloc’s foreign affairs commissioner Federica Mogherini.
Ahead of the summit, Mogherini said the EU was offering unqualified solidarity to Britain and said that the apparent poison attack in Salisbury was “unacceptable”.
She then added that she expected the British foreign minister to provide comprehensive information on the Skripal incident.
That admission means that the EU has formed a grave opinion condemning Russia as guilty before it had actually been “briefed” by the British. Given the prompt and glib EU joint statement fingering Russia, it can be safely assumed that the British did not present “comprehensive information” to make their case.
Boris Johnson ahead of his EU summit in Brussels told the BBC at the weekend: “We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purpose of assassination, but has been creating and stockpiling Novichok”.
President Putin, following his election victory, reiterated Kremlin statements that Russia had destroyed its entire arsenal of chemical weapons at the end of 2017. The deletion of 40,000 tonnes of munitions was confirmed by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Moscow said this week that Britain must either provide evidence for its claims of a Kremlin assassination plot, or issue an apology for slander.
It seems unlikely that Britain will climb down from its Cold War antics. To do so would amount to a scandalous admission of London concocting lies and a propaganda stunt against Russia.
It is deplorable that on the basis of unsubstantiated British claims insulting the Russian state and its president, international relations have hit such a toxic impasse. Washington and the European Union are echoing outlandish claims of a Kremlin-sponsored assassination operation in Britain. EU leaders are reportedly meeting later this week to draw up further sanctions against Russia over the allegations.
Incredibly, Britain is currently in the process of exiting the EU, and yet it is actively bequeathing a legacy of even worse relations between Europe and Russia as it departs the bloc.
Instead of offering Vladimir Putin congratulations on an historic presidential victory, the Western states are willfully winding up a British slur against Russia.