By Omar Raii, Lewisham West and Penge CLP
Like a story straight out of Cold War fiction, a former Russian double agent and his daughter were poisoned by a military grade Russian-manufactured chemical, and the response to it has been at once extraordinary and very boring.
The Tories have expelled some Russian diplomats and somehow convinced themselves that Putin will be livid when he sees that neither Boris Johnson nor Prince William have shown up to his World Cup.
Jeremy Corbyn rightly condemned the attack but seemed reluctant to point the finger at Russia straight away. He later appeared to clarify and made a statement that was much more critical about Russia’s human rights abuses. On the face of it what he said wasn’t exactly outrageous and much of the criticism of it comes from a place of classic Tory quasi-jingoism, which is ironic to say the least. Plenty of Tories (and SNPers) have appeared on Russia Today. Its simply unconvincing for Tories to take huge sums of money from Russian oligarchs and Putin’s chums and then regard themselves as a credible opposition to Putin. The Tory Defence Minister whose response to the entire debacle was to tell Russia to “shut up and go away” was beyond risible and less convincing still was the ridiculous accusation of “treachery”. Corbyn is not wrong or weak because of “treachery” against some made up British national interest, and he was certainly correct to point out the massive donations from Russian oligarchs to the Tory party.
But the fundamental problem from a left viewpoint was with his reticence to clearly condemn the Russian regime, without needing to be pushed into it, and the likely reason for this is due to the influence of his spokesperson, Seumas Milne, and similar people like Andrew Murray.
Milne’s history of euphemising and downplaying Russian and “Soviet” crimes is so well known at this point it would be boring to recount it. Seumas Milne simply thinks that no matter how bad Russia may be, that the United States is worse. That Britain is worse. That NATO members are worse. As if it is an impossibility to criticise and denounce all of these states as well as Russia.
No one is arguing for some sort of war with Russia (at least no socialist should in principle, and presumably no member of the government is daft enough to think post-Brexit Britain is somehow a match for Putin’s Russia). But opposition to Putin’s regime is a prerequisite for the left. This is after all a regime that signs cooperation deals with European far-right parties (Lega Nord, Front National, AfD in Germany, Freedom Party in Austria: there is hardly any far-right European party that hasn’t enjoyed fraternal relations with the Kremlin ), that has invaded several countries in the past decade, and has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world (hardly things the left should ignore).
Scepticism is important, especially about what the British state says given its history (we hardly need to remind ourselves of the run up to the Iraq War). But why on earth should socialists not extend their critical faculties to the claims of a Russian President who has denied the repeated use of chemical weapons by his staunch ally Bashar Al-Assad, that has claimed perhaps it was Jews who interfered with American elections, and who made vague statements about whether Russian forces actually invaded Eastern Ukraine, despite them quite blatantly having done so?
At least some of the blame for so many people’s refusal to accept the bleeding obvious with respect to Russia’s poisoning of the Skripals must be afforded to the Blairites, who so completely destroyed people’s trust in anything the British government says that now even conspiracy theories are the favoured. But of course, the main culprit is the conspiratorial mindset, of which Milne is a prime example, that only sees actions committed by NATO members as being valid enough to condemn. Surprisingly enough it’s often the same people who seem to imply that all Syrians who hate Assad are Al-Qaeda members who routinely gas themselves.
The left needs to be forthright in not only denouncing Tory hypocrisy and any warmongering from Westminster but also denouncing the heinous crimes of the Putin regime and the continual sabre-rattling (and, lest we forget, outright military operations) from Moscow. Those who criticise pathetic Tories for being warmongers might also want to ask themselves what they’d call a regime that has military bases in several countries and that boasts of its huge nuclear weapons capabilities.
Oh, and on the issue of whether or not Putin actually did it. Who knows, perhaps the attempted killing of a former Russian spy with a Russian-made chemical, who in the past has been called a traitor by a Russian state that has previously killed ex-Russian agents, was committed by someone other than the Russian state. But one can’t help simply falling back on Orwell’s infamous statement that: “some things are true even when the Daily Telegraph says they are true”.
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