PETER HITCHENS: We're goading Russia into a 'dirty war' we CANNOT win
'Vladimir Putin, as I have often said, is a sinister tyrant,' writes Peter Hitchens
As I so often tell you not to be taken in by the current anti-Russian frenzy, you might expect me to have some opinions on the horrible events in Salisbury. And so I do.
I was reluctant to believe without proof that this was a Russian state operation. I still think some people have jumped too readily to conclusions without facts.
But the more I look at it, the more I think that the message from this outrage is as follows.
If Britain really wants a war with Russia, as our Government seems to, then Russia will provide that war.
But it will not be fought according to the Geneva Conventions. It will be fought according to the law of the jungle.
Before we embark on this, could someone explain why we actually want such a war?
We are a minor power on the edge of Europe. What national interest does it serve? What do we gain from it? And will we win it?
Vladimir Putin, as I have often said, is a sinister tyrant. Nobody doubts that he, and his foreign intelligence organisation the SVR, are capable of such a heinous and shameful act as the outrage in Salisbury.
But he is also cunning, calculating and careful not to go any further than he has to. This is our second warning. If we do not heed it, the third could be much worse.
'Despite the lack of conclusive proof, I have to accept that the Russian state quite deliberately killed Alexander Litvinenko (above) in the most public and memorable way possible'
What will we do? Withdraw from the World Cup? Break off diplomatic relations? That will make them cringe, in the SVR’s Yasenevo headquarters in the birchwoods on the south-western edge of Moscow, won’t it?
Despite the lack of conclusive proof, I have to accept that the Russian state quite deliberately killed Alexander Litvinenko in the most public and memorable way possible.
I think this was a message to anyone who might choose to act in the same way. But it was also a warning to the Government and people of this country.
If the attack on Sergei Skripal was also a Kremlin operation, then it was done to tell us this: If we want to play tough guys with Moscow, we had better be prepared for the worst.
If this wasn’t its purpose, then it was remarkably stupid to harm the courageous and selfless police officer, DS Nick Bailey, and also to harm Mr Skripal’s innocent daughter, Yulia.
But what if it was the idea? What if this is a deliberate and conscious escalation of menace? Why are we even in this violent, expensive and dangerous game against people far more ruthless than we would dare to be?
We are not morally perfect ourselves, with our head-chopping aggressive Saudi friends, our bloodstained Iraq and Libyan adventures, and our targeted drone-strike killings of British citizens who joined IS.
But we also have no real quarrel with Russia. We have made it up out of nothing, and now we are losing control of it.
Since aggressive war was outlawed in 1945, European nations have tended to use devious methods to destroy, weaken, undermine, deter or attack their enemies, rather than openly send their tanks across borders.
The old Soviet Union financed communist movements and their front organisations in Western countries.
And both sides also ran a secret war – submarines sneaking into each other’s territorial waters, secret support for dissidents by us, and for strikers and ‘peace campaigners’ by them, and of course spying.
Spying is a hostile, dangerous and cruel activity which infuriates its targets, including us.
Remember the 42-year prison sentence for George Blake, one of the few Soviet agents we managed to catch and prosecute?
You don’t spy on friends and you don’t spy on people you’re afraid of, or people you owe money to.
I doubt very much that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) tries to recruit agents, or to finance opponents of the government, in Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Washington DC, Riyadh, or Peking. I expect its main activity in these places is lunch.
But what the Skripal case tells us is that, long after the Cold War ended, we still choose to treat Russia as the sort of country where we should continue active, aggressive spying and efforts to bring down the government.
Not only did we pay Colonel Skripal a lot of money for the names of Russian agents in the West, we financed opponents of the Russian government (and we complain that they mess around in our politics!). Why do we do this?
Now that communism, the USSR and the Warsaw Pact are on the scrapheap, I am at a loss to see what reason we have to be Russia’s enemy, or what reason they have to be ours.
'What the Skripal (above) case tells us is that, long after the Cold War ended, we still choose to treat Russia as the sort of country where we should continue active, aggressive spying and efforts to bring down the government'
We have no common border, we have no colonial rivalries, we barely even trade any more since our oil deals collapsed. We cheerfully get on with equally nasty despotisms elsewhere, especially China.
Yet the Cold War had been over for nearly five years, and we were on good terms with Boris Yeltsin, when the SIS hired Colonel Skripal of the Russian GRU (Main Military Intelligence Directorate).
It took the Russians nine years to catch him, and a year of presumably pretty savage interrogation before they hit back by exposing MI6’s comical ‘fake-rock’ operation in Moscow.
The Kremlin could easily have had Skripal killed during his years in Russia’s disease-ridden, violent prison system. But they didn’t.
They are much angrier with us now than they were then. Yes, what they apparently did in Salisbury is a filthy, inexcusable thing.
But it is the face of modern combat, in a war our government chose to fight. What answer do we have to it that will not make it worse?
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-5486149/PETER-HITCHENS-goading-Russia-dirty-war-win.html#ixzz59T0eaEQF
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