The world audience should already be used to a certain news item: Whenever a chemical attack somewhere takes place, the Western leaders know exactly who is to blame even before the very first investigator has arrived on the scene.
In the Syrian war it became something of a political mechanism: Chemical strike – blame Assad – call for political consequences. All of that happens within several hours. Anyone who dares to ask within these hours for forensic evidence or a proper investigation is branded either a “dictator’s friend”, “conspiracy theorist” or simply a “cynic”. Finally, after an investigation had taken place and no evidence is found for the “Assad-did-it” theory, the political consequences will not be walked back.
This strategy seems to work over and over again. For Syria that means: Any terrorist group, or any anti-Syrian foreign intel service that has a certain interest in frequent “chemical attacks”. It has never been so easy to forge anti-Syrian sentiments into solid anti-Syrian politics. This is not a conspiracy theory – this is the lesson of a seven-year war.
This mechanism can also work in Europe – just with different players: On 4 March 2018, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury with a nerve agent. The poisoning is being investigated as an attempted murder. Skripal is a former Russian military-intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for the UK´s intel services during the 1990s and early 2000s. In December 2004, he was arrested by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), convicted of high treason, and was imprisoned. He settled in the UK in 2010 following a spy swap.
At the very moment when the first news about this case was broadcast, countless Western “experts” had already identified the aggressor: Russia, Putin, the Kremlin. And when the poison was identified as one of the so-called Novichok agents which were developed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, it was seen as the perfect smoking gun. The political mechanisms were already at operating temperature.
On 12 March, British Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a statement containing a clear attack on Moscow: “Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.” And two days later, May announced that the British government would expel 23 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning. The diplomatic ball started to roll – without any evidence, any witness report or any further investigative report.
European leaders did not hesitate to express their solidarity with the UK. The message was clear: “We have to stand united against the Russian threat!” And Washington promised support for “its closest ally”. US president Donald Trump gave his clumsy message: “It sounds to me like it would be Russia, based on all the evidence they have.” In times of Brexit, inner European struggles, as well as increasing skepticism against the US in Europe, it was never so easy to bring them all together.
Whoever dared to ask some logical questions in these days of warm waves of Western solidarity against Putin, is stigmatized as – well, yes – a “Kremlin agent”, “conspiracy theorist” or “cynic”. But these questions deserve answers. How would Russia benefit from such an attack? Why now? Why would they use a nerve agent which can be clearly traced back to the laboratories of the Soviet Union? Why would Moscow risk such a scandal days before the presidential election, and only months before the FIFA world cup in Russia? What kind of Russian strategist would seriously scoff at the Western sanctions regime being prolonged forever and a day?
And Russia? Moscow is now in the same situation as the Syrian government after any chemical attack: The Russian government can do nothing besides refusing the Western allegations. Moscow has asked for access to the case, for a proper investigation. Western media and politicians do not even pretend to take the Moscow statements seriously. On the contrary – they treat the Russian government as a criminal who is somehow desperately trying to deny his guilt.
How will this case end? At present, this is already a philosophical question. What will change in case the forensic evidence does not prove any responsibility on the part of Moscow? Experience shows: Nothing would change. There is one sentence no Western leader has ever said to the Syrian government after wrongful allegations: “Sorry, I was wrong.”