The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Russia May Not Have Attempted to Assassinate an Ex-Spy in England (Recently)

So, I’m behind on a lot of stories, but let’s talk about the Novichok story, in which Russia is said to have tried to assassinate ex-spy, Sergei Skripal, using a nerve agent which is part of the Novichok family.

There has been much hysteria over this, because Russia is behind everything these days. The problem is that the Novichok nerve agents probably don’t exist, and if they do, England (nor anyone else) doesn’t know how to detect them.

Craig Murray has been good on this, if you want the chapter on verse on “Novichoks probably don’t even exist” and “No, the Porton Down labs didn’t confirm they were used,” (paraphrasing) go read  him.

The current hysterical tendency to blame Russia for virtually everything is dangerous and stupid. Russia is both very powerful, because it has nukes and a decent army, and really not all that dangerous because it has a GDP less than that of California’s and Russia much weaker than Europe.

The EU’s population is 508 million. When the UK leaves, it will be 447 million.

Russia’s population is 143 million.

Minus Britain, the EU has a GDP of 18.1 trillion (purchasing power parity), Russia has an economy of 3.5 trillion (ppp). Germany alone has a GDP (ppp) of 4.0 trillion.

If Russia is doing all that it is blamed for, it has the most competent government in the world and the West is ruled by incompetent boobs.

(Hmmm. The second part is credible.)

The West’s problems are primarily the fault of the West. Trump, Brexit, whatever it is you want to blame on someone evil, look at home, not to the mysterious East and its scary despot (or whatever).

Further, the West is still rich and powerful and has the wherewithal to fix its problems. That, unfortunately, will require either the kind of surveillance/police state that would make the Stasi blush, or actually letting ordinary people have decent lives with less inequality.

Or, I suppose, we can blame all our problems on a nation that is only a great power because of a disproportionately powerful military and which has far less people and resources than we do.

Oh, we’re going for option #2?

Okay, then.

(To be clear, Russia may have killed him. But I don’t consider it proven.)

Update: Story and title edited to correct that Skripal isn’t dead.

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  1. Sid Finster

    Found on internet. Spelling and grammar as in original:
    “It’s now clear that the lunatics running the USG crime syndicate are not just stupid and reckless in compelling Russian obeisance; they are in fact genocidal psycopaths actively pursuing war. The USG has lost all legitimacy.

    Trump just expelled 60 Russian diplomats and closed its West coast embassy based on the UK — a case for which there is no motive, no credible tangible evidence, no transparent/open investigation, and total disregard for clearly-prescribed, established due process. This provocation is more ludicrous than the exposed broadcast lie that Sadam’s troops dumped Kuwaiti infants out of incubatord in order to justify war. The Don of this military crine syndicate is now drunk on the swamp water he’d promised to drain and he’s ready to press the button.”

    Trump can take as hostile a line towards Russia as he wants, but nothing will convince those who want to believe.

    Hell, Trump could start WWIII today and russiagate conspiracy theorists will still howl “Putin Puppet!” even as they go up in a mushroom cloud.

  2. The Stephen Miller Band

    Plus, if The West was serious and not feigning indignation, they would listen to Navalny and expel ALL the Russian Oligarchs since the Russian Oligarchs are as much Russian Agents as the Diplomats of not more so.

    What He Said

    The West needs to put its Money where its Mouth is. It needs to put up or shut up.

    I agree with Navalny. Russian Oligarchs, like Putin, ARE THE RUSSIAN STATE. Russians, especially Russia’s Oligarchs, think in terms of The State. If there is one thing that defines Russians, it is this.

    Therefore, Russian Oligarchs Abroad are necessarily Russian Agents and cannot and should not be trusted.

    I want them out of America and out of The West period.

    Also, they’re The Rich. The West treats The Poor like shit and rolls out the Red Carpet for Rich Foreigners. Pathetic. Traitorous, actually. Classist.

    If The West is true in its conviction that the Skripal Poisoning was perpetrated by Russia, then it will expel ALL Russian Oligarchs from its Realm.

    I know The West won’t do that, therefore, this entire Skripal Poisoning Spectacle is a Diversionary Nothing Burger and The West knows Russia didn’t really do it or, it knows Russia did it and doesn’t really care as much as it’s feigning to care.

  3. peonista

    Watch it Ian, you are not allowed to contradict, or question, the dominant narrative.

  4. If they didn’t, why such a puny response?

  5. Troy

    The Skripals are still alive though.

  6. Sid Finster

    @Stirling – because throughout all this, Russia has bent over backwards to avoid doing anything the West might construe as provocation, even as the West has behaved more and more outrageously toward Russia.

  7. Hugh

    Skripal may never recover but last I heard he wasn’t dead. Putin is ex-KGB and a thug. This is not the first time he has assassinated or attempted to assassinate Russian dissidents and/or former double agents living outside Russia. As Hannah Arendt wrote with regard to totalitarianism, it is an error to apply your logic and values to people who have completely different agendas. It made no apparent sense to most of us that Kim Jong-Un offed his half-brother in the absurd way he did in Malaysia, but he did.

    The attempt on Skripal sends a message, again, to all Russians, and really anyone else, that cross Putin or think about crossing him, and he will get you no matter where no matter when. It also can be seen as a way to sow dissension and uncertainty in Europe and also to deepen splits between the UK and both Europe and Trump’s US. And assess Trump. The downside is that it shows Putin can not be trusted to honor his agreements. Skripal was traded and that should have been the end of it. And while surprisingly vicious, the attempt on Skripal’s life also demonstrates extraordinary weakness on the part of Putin.

    One of the things about leaders, and dictators in particular, is that they have a sell-by date, and they almost always stay past it, and never make plans for what comes after, both for them and their country. I think that is where Russia and Putin are now.

    Finally, I do not like ppp calculations of GDP because they inflate the GDP of poorer less developed countries. Nominal GDP of Russia would be around $1.5 trillion, smaller than South Korea’s, and less than half the ppp figure.

  8. VietnamVet

    Russia Insider posted 30 questions; asking “Where are Sergei and Yulia Skripal now? How are they? Are they alive?”

    If the Russian state used nerve gas in Salisbury England, this is an act of war with consequences no less dire than the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. But, instead of the truth, facts are hidden from the populace. There is World War underway in Syria. The USA has not withdrawn since the fall of Raqqa and is holding on to an oil field in the eastern desert. If the intention is for the USA and Israel together to neutralize Iran by destroying the Shiite militias in Syria, this will inevitably will draw Russia into a shooting war. Whoever is pushing this march towards a nuclear war is insane and needs to be committed.

  9. bruce wilder

    “Russia is said to have assassinated an ex-spy, Sergei Skripal”

    Sergei Skripal is not dead, insofar as has been reported, so not assassinated or killed.

  10. someofparts

    This is their next step –

    Of the much-touted red-to-blue wave underway, less than half a dozen, if that, are from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party.

    I don’t know how something like this will pan out, but I’m not optimistic. This last paragraph underlines my worst fears and confirms all the scary things I’m seeing in the people around me.

    “The upper-middle-class layer that provides the “mass” base of the Democratic Party has moved drastically to the right over the past four decades, enriched by the stock market boom, consciously hostile to the working class, and enthusiastically supportive of the military-intelligence apparatus which, in the final analysis, guarantees its own social position against potential threats, both foreign and domestic. It is this social evolution that now finds expression on the surface of capitalist politics, in the rise of the military-intelligence “faction” to the leadership of the Democratic Party.”

  11. The problem with “Novichoks probably don’t even exist” is probably.

  12. Hugh

    someofparts, my view of the Democrats is that if they wanted my vote they would stand for and fight for things I believe in. They don’t. So I figure they don’t want my vote. The current giddiness in the Democratic party is fueled by expectations that voters will vote for them as a way of rejecting Trump and the Republicans. They are likely right for 2018. But 2020 not so much.

  13. tony

    Yesterday Russia was blamed for furries. I love a good conspiracy theory, but flat earthers and the New Statesman are a bit too crazy for me.

  14. realitychecker

    Survival of the fittest is a brutal concept, but it is asserting itself now at the most basic level.

    The fittest are those who survive the fight for life and security. Period. It does not matter. in evolutionary terms, how that fight is won; all that matters is whether you win it.

    We can easily see who is winning the fight. And what the future they are fashioning will look like. So, let’s stop pretending that it’s an ambiguous mystery of some sort.

  15. Sid Finster – there are many ways to say “We did not do it.” None of then the Russians did. The does not mean they did the deed, but it does say they might know who did.

  16. bruce wilder

    there are many ways to say “We did not do it.” None of then the Russians did. The does not mean they did the deed, but it does say they might know who did.

    On a meta level, credibility no longer has much survival value for states in the current environment. The news media are such an effective tool of mass manipulation of essentially passive or credulous audiences, that it no longer matters. The British government does not bother to “prove” anything it asserts and Russia doesn’t bother refuting evidence that has not been presented; and Rachel Maddow’s ratings go up. What can you do?

  17. Donald

    Wouldn’t the argument Hugh gives about Putin also apply to May? May and other Western leaders are perfectly capable of helping the Saudis murder children in Yemen. Why not someone closer at home?

    This isn’t a rhetorical question. How do people in power think? Would they see the deaths of people in Yemen as something that troubles them? Clearly if it does it is not enough to change the policy of arming the Saudis. So how would they feel about attempted murder closer at home? Or if some third party did it, how about lying about who did it?

    I really don’t know how such people think, but when it comes to stories where we have no serious independent sources we can trust, where it is one government vs another, I suspend judgment. It could be Putin of course. But maybe not.

  18. The idea that Russia is behind Skripal attack is laughable.

    George Galloway: “No slither of evidence” against Russia

    Ray McGovern (ret. CIA) “I do not put it past MI5, and MI6, at all”

    Philip Giraldi (ret. CIA) “As noted above, May’s argument is, to a certain extent, based on character assassination of Russians – she even offered up the alleged “annexation” of Crimea as corroboration of her view that Moscow is not inclined to play by the rules that others observe. It is a narrative that is based on the presumption that “this is the sort of thing the Russian government headed by Vladimir Putin does.” The British media has responded enthusiastically, running stories about numerous assassinations and poisonings that ought to be attributed to Russia, while ignoring the fact that the world leaders in political assassinations are actually the United States and Israel.”

    It could be plausible to consider that states hostile to Russia like Ukraine and Georgia that were once part of the Soviet Union could have had, and might still retain, stocks of the Novichok nerve agent. That in turn suggests a false flag, with someone having an interest in promoting a crisis between Russia and Britain. If that someone were a country having a sophisticated arms industry possessing its own chemical weapons capability, like the United States or Israel, it would be quite easy to copy the characteristics of the Russian nerve agent, particularly as its formula has been known since it was published in 1992. The agent could then be used to create an incident that would inevitably be blamed on Moscow.

    And to throw out a really wild possibility, one might observe that no one in Britain had a stronger motive to generate a major confrontation with a well-defined enemy than Theresa May, who has been under fire by the media and pressured to resign by many in her own Conservative Party. Once upon a time suggesting that a democratically elected government might assassinate someone for political reasons would have been unthinkable, but the 2016 election in the United States has demonstrated that nothing is impossible, particularly if one is considering the possibility that a secret intelligence service might be collaborating with a government to help it stay in power. An incident in which no one was actually killed that can be used to spark an international crisis mandating “strong leadership” would be just the ticket.”

  19. Sid Finster

    @Stirling Newbury: IIRC, the Russian had said that they were not behind the Skripal poisoning, but nobody in HM Government or the MSM is willing to listen.

    Moreover, the idea that this somehow “sends a message” is absurd. Besides having no motive, the timing could not be worse for Russia, and the timing could not be more convenient for those who seek Cold War II.

  20. bruce wilder

    The idea that [fill in the blank] is laughable.

    Nothing against metamars’s particular comment here, but I just do not want to read or listen to a lot of open-ended speculation. It is hardly limited to the blog comments. Look at cable news shows and that’s all there is. The whole Trump-Russiagate thing is built out of nothing else, and it seems to rot the brains of people who dive into it.

    It isn’t just about “suspending judgement” for me; it is about not getting drawn into the process of propaganda. And, that is what is going on here: a process of propaganda, where there is no reliable information and only a facsimile of critical judgment amidst a floodtide of groundless speculation and drama mongering.

  21. NR

    Yes, the idea that Russia would ever do something like this is absolutely ridiculous.

    Oh, wait.

  22. Hugh

    I think it is important that we apply the same standards of evidence and critical analysis to any question, any policy. Not every bad leader (May) is equivalent to every other bad leader (Putin). All national leaders in the world today are bad. All governments are kleptocracies. So do we just throw up our hands and walk away? Do we really equate Great Britain’s highly tangential role in Yemen with Russia’s direct and heavy-handed intervention in Syria?

    On the one hand, the US and Western countries are given no benefit of the doubt. They are presumed guilty, no evidence required. I mean evidence and a case can often be made, but they aren’t necessary to the presumption. On the other, with Russia, if any theory, not evidence but theory, –and there is always the handy false flag operation– that can be used, then there is a tendency to give Russia a pass. But it is worse than that. Even if a solid case can be made that Skripal was targeted by Putin and the Russian intelligence services, that is seen as insufficient because Putin is never wrong and the West is never right. QED. Even if there was a TV crew following the Russian agent as they explained who they were and what they were about to do, the reflex of some would be either to find a way to deny what they were seeing or say that everybody does it, in fact the West does it more or worse. So no biggy.

    This is precisely the kind of behavior that we decry and ridicule, justly, in the wingnut right. It crushes our credibility to engage in the same thing.

  23. Ian Welsh

    Is May a better leader than Putin? I—guess? But I think that’s mostly a matter of opportunity. If she’d been leader around the Iraq War, she would have signed on just like Blair did. If she has a single bone of integrity in her body, I’d love to have it pointed out.

    Putin’s an evil man. Competent to a point (far more so than May), but evil. I’ve said so many times, and criticized at various points. Just don’t think the evidence is here, in this case.

  24. Donald

    “It isn’t just about “suspending judgement” for me; it is about not getting drawn into the process of propaganda. ”

    That’s a better way to look at it. In my defense, I think it can be an interesting exercise to engage in speculation for a moment or two so long as you don’t get sucked into taking any of it seriously. In the Skripal case, the point would be that there are other storylines the press could be pushing if they wanted with equal or greater plausibility. But I am not going to spend any time pushing an alternative theory when we have no evidence.

  25. NR

    @Sid Finster:

    No motive? Are you serious? Killing Skripal this way sends a powerful message, not only to former spies, but also to Putin’s current and potential enemies: “If you cross me, there is no place you can hide, I can kill you anywhere and there is no one who can protect you.”

    It’s terrorism, plain and simple. It’s intended to send a message.

  26. jawbone

    “Cui bono” relentlessly comes to mind.

    Who benefits? And why such crappy implementation? Now it’s thought something was put on the Skripal front door.

    Whatever it was, it does not seem to have affectd those trying to help the couple. A doctor working to help the Skripals upon their being found on the outdoor bench spent quite a long time working on the pair. No poisoning, no illness affected him. No one in the area sent to the hospital showed any signs of being poisoned.

    The Guardian at one point said Detective Sergeant Nick Baily was thought to have touched something at the Skripal residence that caused some form of illness. I tried searching for a timeline which indicated when –or if– the officer went to the residence, but haven’t found one yet.

    Too many questions for May and then all the follow on countries to be so amazingly certain that the Russkis did it. OK. too many questions for me to be convinced. Actual evidence would be good.

  27. Donald

    Britain and America’s role in Yemen is not highly tangential. We support the bombing and provide the weapons.

    And Russia’s bombing in Aleppo and Ghouta is comparable to America’s bombing in Raqqa and Mosul, yet their bombing is described in genocidal terms and ours is not. And we support the Syrian rebels when anyone with any sense knew perfectly well that this would prolong the war.

    We have the freedom to express our utter lack of trust in our government and the mainstream press and I am using it. I assume this would be riskier in Russia. But on foreign policy, no, I don’t see a big distinction between Russia and the West. The idea that we either have to believe Putin or give the Western governments the benefit of a doubt is a false dichotomy.

  28. The money quote from the Stephen F. Cohen links I posted, earlier, are:

    “No verified facts have been produced for either. None. Not here, nor in London. About either Russiagate or the Skripal case. And secondly, and note this, that Putin is personally blamed, for having personally ordered, the Russiagate allegations, and the murder of Skripal.”

  29. I believe it’s intellectually rigorous to accept a non-zero probability for Russian state culpability, up to and including Putin. However, the odds of this scenario are so low, one is reminded of this famous scene from the movie “Dumb and Dumber”, also involving probability:

  30. Hugh

    False equivalences and double standards are credibility killers whether they come from the right or progressives. If progressives want to be taken seriously and sell their values to the rest of society, we really need to dispense with this nonsense. It is self-defeating.

    Putin is not some eleven dimensional chess player. Most of the time he is and acts like a common thug. There is a saying that when you hear the clatter of hooves outside your door, think horses, not zebras. This was a fairly typical Russian-style hit attempt. Much like the polonium poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, it was meant to be messy, painful, and nasty. It was never meant to be hidden, but to make a statement. The labored efforts I see here to turn a horse into a zebra are just icing on the cake for Putin and his intelligence services. They can attempt to pull off a gruesome double murder right in front of you. They are perfectly willing to take advantage of your gullibility, and have nothing but contempt for you for it.

    I say this as someone who is not anti-Russian. I have immense respect for Russian culture and the Russian people. I think that post-USSR Russia was unconscionably screwed over by the West, but I have no illusions about a dictator like Putin, the kleptocracy he runs, or how low he is willing to go.

    Both for credibility and just to understand the world in which you live and how it operates, I would counsel progressives to regard all sides critically and dispassionately.

  31. tony


    So you want the left to adopt the standard of blind belief to ruling class propaganda? Because that is what you post amounts to. There is not one piece of evidence Russia had anything to do with this, yet you insist that we believe it because our rulers stated it.

    If you adopt this standard, what makes you left? You can’t ever question the ruling faction.

  32. Hugh

    Progressives really need to take the rose colored glasses off. The sheer degree of willful unreality is staggering. Dictators are not nice people. They maintain power by killing people and scaring the shit out of everyone else. But nooo, because if Western leaders are corrupt, and they are, then Putin must be warm and fuzzy. You will never understand the world you live in because the reality of it makes you uncomfortable. And any uncomfortable truth must be rejected. Again no difference between you and the wingnut right.

  33. NR


    The attempts to cast Putin as a poor innocent victim of western propaganda ring hollow given his history. I suggest you read up on it. Start here:

  34. Donald

    Hugh, I believe the Russians are guilty of bombing civilians in Syria, as are we. Responsibility for that sort of atrocity is difficult to hide. Nobody claims some other actor bombed Aleppo or Ghouta or in our case, Mosul and Raqqa.

    When it comes to this spy vs spy stuff, ordinary people like ourselves are pretty much at the mercy of whatever our governments claim, or we would be if we take your advice. I have no firm opinion on the guilty party at all. There is no logical reason why I should.

  35. realitychecker

    @ Hugh

    “You will never understand the world you live in because the reality of it makes you uncomfortable.”

    Wowsie, now there’s a thought that is eminently susceptible to wide application lol.

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