At first it seemed that the Kremlin could get away with finishing off Skripal’, who would pay the price for treachery with his life and that of his daughter. The Russian press and officials, such as its inept ambassador to London, sneered and mocked British indignation at not only the blatant infringement of sovereignty but also the idea that this kind of behaviour could become accepted practice. Tone deaf is the only description one can think of. Even Stalin and Molotov would have thought better, even at the height of the Cold War, than to take such risks for such paltry stakes. And it seemed that teflon-coated President Putin had once again managed to escape with just a slap on the wrist, as happened with the assassination of Litvinenko a decade ago.
The British Prime Minister, battled and badly bruised by endless, tortuous negotiations to divorce the EU, looked like being a lone voice of protest against Russian barbarity. Even the leader of the opposition, old time Marxist Jeremy Corbyn, who somehow clings on to the notion that Russia is the beloved Soviet Union, sought to undercut her condemnation.
And never had the English Channel seemed so insurmountable. A spokesman for French President Macron dismissed the affair as unimportant. Then the unexpected started to happen. As is usual with May, events came to her aid. It only goes to show that luck and pluck are more important than skill in politics, as she repeatedly demonstrates, and as a deadly rival, former Education Minister, Mr Gove once found out to his cost. The political cadavers litter Whitehall. May is fast garnering a reputation as the Typhoid Mary of Downing Street.
Even after the appallingly inept Chairman of the EU Commission Mr Juncker (hailing from a country with a population less than that of Las Vegas), and that Titanic survivor, Chancellor Merkel, rose to congratulate Mr Putin on fixing his own re-election, the British have somehow persuaded the EU to retaliate against Russia. Half of all EU states, 14 out of 28, including the ones that actually count, Germany and France, are expelling Russian intelligence officers,
And this was not the coup de grace. Scoffing at the best advice Washington had to offer, Donald Trump, whom the Russians transliterate rather unfortunately as “Tramp”, congratulated Putin on his electoral triumph. Yet the desperate Theresa May somehow persuaded the White House to close yet another Russian consulate in the United States (in Seattle, the home of Microsoft) and throw out 60 intelligence officers, including 12 stationed at the United Nations.
The Russians are now reeling from the shock (“Novyi rezko antirossiiskii shag sanktsioniroval lichno Tramp”, Vzglyad.ru, 26 March 2018.) As usual the luckless Foreign Ministry announces that this “unfriendly” act cannot go without consequences. But its timing is as usual not good. Trump’s spokesman has warned that any retaliation will precipitate further measures. Mr Bolton, newly installed at the White House as National Security Advisor, is clearly having a field day; and, likely as not given Moscow’s cack-handed diplomacy, looks forward to going va banque.