Thursday 15 March 2018

A Fork In The Road

A Choice To Be Made: The question New Zealand’s elected leaders are now required to answer is whether or not they are obliged to respond to the Russian Federation’s dangerous and despicable attempt to assassinate Sergei Skripal, by joining-in with London’s equally dangerous retaliatory sanctions. Measures which may prove detrimental to the long-term foreign policy aspirations and economic interests of the New Zealand people.

NEW ZEALAND is fast approaching a fork in the road. Over the next few hours and days the Labour-NZ First coalition government will be required to identify who its friends are. Will Prime Minister Ardern and Foreign Minister Peters reaffirm their willingness to abide by the rules of “The Club” – also known as “The Five Eyes” – or will they respectfully decline to participate in the ratcheting-up of tensions between the Anglo-Saxon powers and the Russian Federation?

At stake is the Prime Minister’s vision of a New Zealand which acts independently, as an “honest broker”, on the international stage. A nation committed to easing – not exacerbating – international tensions. Her Foreign Minister’s long-held conviction that New Zealand and the Russian Federation have much to gain, and very little to lose, by strengthening their economic relationship is also on the line.

Winston Peters’ concern about this country’s growing dependence on the Chinese economy and his wish to increase the number of baskets in which New Zealand carries its eggs, has not escaped the notice of this country’s Five Eyes “partners”. Neither have his sceptical comments regarding the shooting-down of Flight MH-17 over the Ukraine, nor his refusal to add New Zealand’s voice to the Western chorus condemning Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Most certainly this reticence has not endeared him to the British.

So alarmed have the British become about a possible New Zealand departure from the London-forged consensus on Russia’s aggressive culpability, that their Wellington High Commission has started briefing against the New Zealand Foreign Minister to New Zealand journalists. According to Richard Harman’s POLITIK website:

“The British invited selected journalists (POLITIK did not attend) to a briefing clearly intended to soften up New Zealand public opinion to join in any sanctions Britain might try and impose on Russia who it suspects of being behind the poisoning [of Russian double -agent Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia]. The fact that a senior diplomat conducted the briefing suggests that the British felt they needed to make a strong case in Wellington.”

This is an extraordinary revelation. It shows the British Government is willing to interfere directly in the domestic politics of an independent nation state – ironically, the very same “crime” Russia stands accused of in relation to the American electoral process. It also shows, by the way, that there are New Zealand journalists in New Zealand’s capital city who are willing to allow themselves to be used for the purposes of advancing the interests of a foreign power. (It remains to be seen whether the journalists who allowed themselves to be used by the National Party to drive Winston Peters out of Parliament in 2008, were included in this select little group.)

It is instructive to compare the British High Commission’s willingness to brief against Winston Peters, with the willingness of the Australian Government to foot-trip Jacinda Ardern’s efforts to relieve the suffering of the detained asylum-seekers on Manus Island. Canberra sanctioned the leaking of “classified” information to both the Australian and New Zealand news media: unconfirmed reports that were seized upon by right-wing journalists and broadcasters in both countries to paint New Zealand’s young prime minister as a naïve and ill-informed diplomatic amateur.

What these two countries have in common is membership of the “Five Eyes Club”. Clearly, New Zealand is not expected to deviate by so much as a single step from the diplomatic and national security “line” laid down by its larger and much more powerful “partners” in global surveillance – and intervention.

Equally clearly, the senior members of the Five Eyes Club can rely upon a trusted group of local “opinion formers” to work against any politician and/or political party deemed to be placing the “long-standing security relationships” of club members at risk.

Also to be relied upon are the national security apparatuses and the armed forces of the Five Eyes partners. It has long been an article-of-faith among the left-wing critics of Western Imperialism that the ruling institutions of the imperialist powers have much more in common with each other than they do with the subordinate populations of their own nation-states. To discover where these countries’ spooks and soldiers true loyalties lie, all their citizens need do is elect a government committed to severing the ties that bind them together.

Clearly, the British and the Australians are convinced that an irresponsible New Zealand electorate (aided and abetted by the country’s absurd MMP electoral system) has saddled them with a coalition government that can no longer be relied upon to follow the rules of The Club. The sanctions London is determined to impose upon the Russian Federation will thus become a litmus test of New Zealand’s readiness to join in the diplomatic and economic “containment” measures demanded by Prime Minister Teresa May.

Over the course of the next few days, Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters must decide whether the international relationships and economic interests of New Zealanders are to be decided in Wellington, by the government they have democratically elected, or in London and Canberra by politicians, spies and soldiers over whom they exercise no control whatsoever.

That great powers sometimes do dangerous and despicable things to those they suspect of acting against their interests is a regrettable fact of international life. In this respect, the British and Americans have as much to be ashamed of as the Russians. The question New Zealand’s elected leaders are now required to answer is whether or not they are obliged to respond to the Russian Federation’s dangerous and despicable attempt to assassinate Mr Skripal, by joining-in with London’s equally dangerous retaliatory sanctions. Measures which may prove detrimental to the long-term foreign policy aspirations and economic interests of the New Zealand people.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 15 March 2018.


Polly said...

Your article poses a very good question.
There is not proof that it was the Russians.
Theresa May needs to put the brakes on.
The major element of proof is missing.

pat said...

pleased to see someone lay out the honest choice to be made....I suspect however that the discussion, with detailed analysis of the impacts of the dichotomy will remain in the little followed corners of the blogosphere so the electorate will continue to vote uninformed and oblivious.

David Stone said...

Courageous of you to address this Chris, but...
" the Russian Federation’s dangerous and despicable attempt to assassinate Mr Skripal," You don't seem to present this with any doubt as to it's accuracy which astounds me.
Isn't it exactly like the gas attack in Khan Shaykhun ? If Putin is responsible for this botched murder, and he chose to have it done using the only possible means that would identify the Russian state as the only possible source of the means of doing it out of the thousands of ways of killing people that would not implicate the Russian state ,then the only possible reason for doing it this way must have been to deliberately give the west a two finger salute. "We can do what we like" What are you going to do about it?" " We can deliver nukes anywhere on earth and no-one can stop them , so suck on that."
I don't think that's his style. Russia is the last country on earth to gain advantage from this murder attempt by this means. It's a blatant obvious false flag. Why aren't they going through the proper channels to investigate it?
I don't expect May has a clue what's going on. She is a stupid mouthpiece. It might not matter if a PM is a fool when it's only domestic decisions that are being made, but in these circumstances where what she is doing is pitching the world headlong into a global nuclear war the wisdom of leadership suddenly maters. Lets hope it turns out we have some in our government.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There are probably a number of reasons why we shouldn't bother condemning the Russians.

1.Payback for Thatcher's refusal to condemn the Rainbow Warrior bombing

2.Britain and the US have often interfered in the internal affairs of other countries, including influencing their elections. But also of course supporting and financing coups.

3.British sanctions aren't likely to be that severe, considering they tend to rely a fair bit on Russian gas. And the Russians are far likely to forgive a good customer, than someone across the other side of the world who doesn't buy their stuff.

But personally I'd go for the cantankerous one.

greywarbler said...

That great powers sometimes do dangerous and despicable things to those they suspect of acting against their interests is a regrettable fact of international life. In this respect, the British and Americans have as much to be ashamed of as the Russians.

This point you have nmade Chris a very pertinent. The moral behaviour that citizens are usually expected to adopt within countries at peace, is under stress regularly. Countries that develop hostile attitudes to others, develop large holes in their moral blanket. They justify this as 'They deserve it because....' offering up some suitable transgression, and larger powers commit heinous crimes of retaliation on a larger scale. When reading history one sees there are no clean hands to take the high throne above the sordid or vicious behaviours of the past or those unfolding now.

Russia is not a top power in a world list of economic figures for 2012 but shows a sharp growth line. Though a country with large area, it's at par with Italy at 9th in world GDP:
China is rising and using capitalism to gain dominance, and watching its borders as the USA has always done. There is much growth in these two countries, and India and we cannot allow ourselves to lose opportunities for trade with them.

So is Russia and committed the crime of shooting down a passenger plane that flew over a contested area, hoping that its high flight path would keep it safe. This is one of the much-quoted deplorable Russian actions. But the decision by the airline to use that route was deplorable also. It was a risky, commercial decision and the families with losses should look for recompense from the stupid or venal company that took the route.

Russia is being threatened by western powers and their warmongering and weapons development; the sanctions just fuel their determination to retaliate and not be weakened by hypocritical nations sparring for dominance and their subjugation. More sanctions are just another step along this same path by people who have the power, but not the intellect or will to find another way to limit the Russian aggressive response to a sort of siege by the west.

We will have to act intelligently and cannily not to get swamped in the anti-red rhetoric of the right Righteous, hypocritical at every level.
Who do we have to conciliate and cultivate? Britain for exports after Brexit, EU after Brexit, USA as it stamps around the world lifting its leg on one or other countries following the erratic whims of its right wing polity. China, which now they have 'come into money' we have flipped on, away from colonial British-sourced anti-Asian sentiments, and a history of cruel revolution also wonderful scholarship and invention. Japan, who has put aside our allies dreadful atomic bomb from the past, and we similarly the dreadful behaviour of its forces. Australia which is turning to the dark side, but not when it applies to ethnicity, or pacific co-operation with a small 'p'.

We have traded with Russia before when it was viewed as a dim bulb which should be turned off, All large powers will seek advantage, and when assured of support from us we get added to their bag of resources to advance their own objectives. Our kiwis are under threat from we NZ people who use them as icon, but don't ensure their safety or survival. Human kiwis are set to understand their pain and possible endangered future if not more clever to escape the club foot imprint of large powers.

peteswriteplace said...

I have personally thought for some time that a FTA with Russia increases the number of eggs in the basket & potentially reduces China's influence on NZ. Interesting times ahead.Assassins? We had our own potential assassin in NZ; he attempted to assassinate the Queen during a visit, although she was safe enough. He did the right thing and committed suicide in prison.

Patricia said...

Cui Bono Chris. Cui Bono. Clue. Think Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands

Reen said...

In 2017 Russia completed the destruction of its chemical weapon stockpile ahead of time
This was verified by the OPCW and also applauded by it .So far the US, and UK are lagging
So it seems that it is important for Russia to be seen as a responsible member of the world community
Why would they then fuck it all up 6 months later to "send a message"?
And why would they fuck up the whole "spy swap" system that depends on good faith and mutual immunity
I can't think of a good reason why Russia would want to sabotage its reputation in this way
But I can think of quite a few who would
Can't you

As well Why won't TMay proffer a sample of the nerve agent to the OPCW?
Why is she refusing to comply with the CWC protocols, as Russia is asking her to

As well
read this
Doubts on the very existence of Novichoks by the OPCW and Robin Black, an ex Porton Down chemist

I've got my doubts about Winnie, but one thing he's always been on about is sovereignty

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David... I suspect that Russia doesn't give a shit about whether they are blamed for it or not. I think Putin is probably flexing his muscles here. It may well be that it was done by a rogue faction of the FSB, but I think they are probably up for it. Particularly after they issued statements pretty much glorifying it. Reaction in Europe is likely to be muted, as they also rely on Russian gas. And in the States because Trump and various relatives are in debt up to their ears to various Russians. I think they did it, and now they're telling everyone to go take a running poke at a rolling doughnut. Much the same as they did over their alleged interference in the US elections. They have found out after their various transgressions in the Ukraine and in Chechnya that there's not much anyone can do.

Geoff Fischer said...

The British may believe that they have a right to stick their oar into New Zealand politics because, after all, New Zealand is bound in allegiance to their Head of State.
The United States believes the Monroe doctrine, sensibly expanded to accommodate a shrinking world, gives them the right to dictate the course of politics in any of the world's nations, with New Zealand being no exception.
Australia also feels free to interfere in its neighbour's affairs by right of conquest dating back to the invasion of the Waikato by Australian imperial regiments in 1863.
But up to now New Zealand has done little if anything to disabuse its Five Eyes partners of the belief that New Zealand is a docile and pliant colonial asset of the Anglo-Saxon powers.
Peters should stick to his guns. While appalled by the anti-China campaign being waged by New Zealand's security services at the behest of the Trump administration, I do perceive political risk in New Zealand becoming overly dependent on Chinese trade or investment, and it makes sense to develop markets in the Russian Federation and elsewhere.
The western powers have openly embarked upon a "trade war" with the former communist states, and there is a real risk that trade war could lead to regional or even global military conflicts. If state sponsored assassination attempts were sufficient and necessary grounds for war then the Realm of New Zealand would be be at war with the United States, Britain, France, the Russian Federation and even, if such was possible, itself.

Victor said...

There are only three relevant criteria involved here:

1. Will anything we do about Russia be to the advantage or detriment of our upcoming FTA with the EU27?

2. Will it enhance or weaken the international rule of law, upon which New Zealand's survival depends?

3. Will it contribute to our detract from our soft power (such as it is) by reinforcing or otherwise our reputation as a good international citizen?

Three considerations that should not apply are:

1.Pleasing the UK. It's desperate for friends and trading partners after the lemming leap of the 2016 referendum. It's also grown foolishly nostalgic about its former colonies. Nothing we do or don't do will incur its consistent wrath, unless the US orders it to be wrathful.

2. Pleasing the US. As long as Trump's around, no-one knows for sure what that entails. And if you think you've got the answer, it may not still be the answer this time next week.

3. The past crimes, real and alleged, of the UK and US. The practice of virtue does not depend upon the virtues of those who may benefit from your acts.

So now work out what to do about it.

Victor said...

peter petterson

If you could convince me that an FTA with Russia would be as valuable as one with the EU27, I might agree with you.

As it is, our dalliance with Moscow might endanger a deal with the largest assemblage of affluent consumers on the planet.

There might (and I stress "might") also be a broader issue of principle here.

The EU's sanctions against Russia stem primarily from the latter's undeclared war in Ukraine and its seizure of Crimea.

Now, for all the bloodshed involved, the Ukrainian situation might not be the worst thing going on globally at present. Nor is all the fault on one side. But it's hard to think of anything of recent years that's in more flagrant violation of the 'Law of States' than the transfer of Crimea to Russian rule.

And, in the absence of armed forces powerful enough to defend New Zealand against all potential comers, we are ultimately dependent for our continued existence on the Law of States. So you could argue that we have "skin in the game".

A further consideration might be that, whilst China is slowly encouraging the permeation of some of the smaller Pacific nations by its influence, Russia is very firmly ensconced in Fiji, which is an altogether more significant regional player.

So, whilst I'm firmly in favour of reducing our excessive commercial dependence on China, I'd be cautious about getting too obviously into bed with Russia.

To my mind, it's an option to keep open, providing it doesn't close down other potentially more valuable and less problematic options, of which the EU27 is the most obvious.

Andrew Nichols said...

Smelling a rat once more. 10 years to decide who or what killed Litvinenko...and 10 days to come to this conclusion? ellowcake from Niger/aluminium tubes/anthrax labs/ babies in incubators/Libayn troops with Viagra/Libyan troops about to commit genocide....the list is endless but once more we are expected to fall into line and swallow it all uncritically by journos/pollies/commentators and our patriotic compatriots...All slam dunks and presented by grave faced leaders....Bollocks. Goering was right.

“Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war: neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But after all it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or fascist dictorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peace makers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

Victor said...

Perhaps my response to peter petterson should be revised in the light of our government's statements on the apparent mutual compatibility of deals with both the EU and Russia.

I'm glad that both projects are still going ahead and that the issue of compatibility has been addressed.

Anonymous said...

Thought this was going to be on the sex scandal, guess the honeymoon is over. The fork in the road, and the PM looking caught out and out of touch.


pat said...

interesting projections.

Reen said...

"the fork in the road"
a sex scandal
Wonderful !
Some people do have trouble with their vowels

Nick J said...

We live in a dangerous world at the end of Pax Americana. Whilst we focus on Chinese growth we may have missed the Russians nullifying American ability to encroach into eastern Europe by establishing MAD with next gen missiles. This is a hugely dangerous moment,we must as part of the U.S. block tread very carefully.

To me I can only state we need to become misaligned. That is a problem in its own right.

Nick J said...

Another thought on the Russian spy issue. I see it like the accusations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

I think we need to get our heads around the rule of law, and in particular the legality of accusations that are made without evidence that will stand up in court. The journalists and politicians of the West do our institution of freedom no favours in acting as kangaroo courts. If I was to openly impinge upon a fellow citizens freedom to maintain good reputation by accusing them, with no hard evidence of a crime I would expect to be sued for libel.

Others may in the rush to bash Putin think it is acceptable, I'd suggest it is a slippery slope that undermines our freedoms. Worse is the UK government threatening Russian property with confiscation based upon accusation and supposition, not proven fact. That in my mind is criminal. Not a good look for a "free democracy".

David Stone said...

Thats the other option OK. I don't favour this one but it's viable. What's not viable is the concept that either the Russian state or whoever did it not being totally clear in their mind who would be blamed. Either Russia did it derisively, deliberately leaving their calling card, or someone else did it with Russia being blamed as either part of or the whole reason for doing it.
No one did it thinking that no one would notice what the poison was. Do we agree on that?
Cheers David J S

greywarbler said...

/Anonymous Ron
Keep up with the sex scandal and then you can give us detail about it when appropriate. Meanwhile there are important things to consider and wonder and ponder about also. Then we will be covering all aspects and not getting caught out and out of touch ourselves.

Victor said...


Thanks for that figure of 143,972,049 for the Russian Federation's population.

In the EU, Germany on its own has a population of 82 million and France of just under 68 million, which, combined, makes them a bigger market than Russia, even before we add in the post Brexit EU's other 25 member countries.

So we're not comparing like with like and it would be absurd to sacrifice the greater gain for the considerably smaller, particularly as the EU's FTAs are, these days, designed to avoid the types of negativities associated with the CPTP et al and, instead, factor in high labour standards,consumer protection and environmental safeguards.

A few days ago, it seemed as if we could have our cake and eat it. Now it seems we can't. So it's obvious where our preference should lie.

pat said...


A couple of other points to note...Russia's population is projected to quite significantly decline (and without the likelyhood of migration demand to offset)...and its current economic output is relatively small considering its population size when compared to the europeans.....but critically its economy is based on the export of oil,gas and coal.Soon to be stranded assets.

If its an either or, and I suggest in the current climate it is, then where is the choice? Hell, even if there wasnt an either/ or position you wouldnt be rushing to do a deal with them....especially given the past problems with payment and realstic expectations around enforcement.

greywarbler said...

Re Victor at 16.15
And, in the absence of armed forces powerful enough to defend New Zealand against all potential comers, we are ultimately dependent for our continued existence on the Law of States. So you could argue that we have "skin in the game".

With reference to Russia going into Ukraine - wasn't it said at the time that Russia felt insecure and wanted to have a port at its border in the middle of the country. Presumably this was considering the size needed for an armed force powerful enough to defend Russia's wide borders against all potential comers united behind NATO, and possibly others. And no doubt oil and gas lines were tops in consideration; they certainly have been for the USA and Brits.

WW1 Between 900,000 and 2,500,000 Russians were killed. At least 1,500,000 Russians and possibly up to more than 5 million Russians were wounded. Nearly 4,000,000 Russian soldiers were held as POWs (Britain, France and Germany had 1.3 million POWs combined).
World War I casualties - Wikipedia

World War II casualties of the Soviet Union from all related causes numbered more than 20,000,000, both civilian and military, although the exact figures are disputed. The number 20 million was considered official during the Soviet era. The Russian government puts the Soviet war dead at 26.6 million based on a 1993 study by the Russian Academy of Sciences. [1][2][3] this includes 8,668,400 military deaths as calculated by the Russian Ministry of Defense.[4][5][6]

The Russians would think now that they have had enough "skin" lost in this world game for dominance and power.

Victor said...

Nick J

I think the UK's Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry,has correctly stated the situation when she says that Russia has a prima facie case to answer.

Thus far, it has failed to do so and has gloried in this failure.

I agree there's no "smoking gun" here, but, even so, there's a large weight of circumstantial evidence, pointing either to the Kremlin's involvement or to that of a rogue Russian intelligence operation. Either way, the buck stops with Putin, whether or not he knew what was going on.

There's also, contra some comments on this thread, no shortage of ascribable motive.

No Kremlin leader facing re-election could lose more votes than he gained by portraying the Motherland as an eternal victim of western intrigue and self-righteousness and himself as its brave, stern and resolute defender and scourge of traitors. He'd have won anyhow. But a clear priority would have been to bolster his authority by arresting the decline in turnout manifested last time around.

Further motive might, as always, have been the desire to intimidate other foes of the regime, both in exile and otherwise and, specifically, to discourage sources of information in the United States from spilling all to Robert Mueller.

Should the UK government have stayed its rhetoric until the investigation was complete? Probably, particularly as its fulminations will only have boosted Putin's electoral prospects.

But it's hard not to fulminate in the face of such a crime and of Russia's own grandstanding. And, obviously, a weak prime minster, such as Teresa May, would have felt under particularly strong pressure to "do something".

Do such fulminations, along with the subsequent expulsion of diplomats, constitute a breach of international law? I'm not sure how you can argue this, as every sovereign government is free to say whatever it says and to expel foreign diplomats suspected of intelligence activities. It's how things have always worked.

But, I would agree, it's important for both sides to de-escalate the situation and , following yesteday's vote, it might prove easier for Putin to do his part in this process.

Reen said...

Here's a scenario

We know Pablo Miller recruited Skripal and Millers boss was Christopher Steele
When Skripal winds up in Salisbury, Miller is close by and they meet every week for lunch
This is also part of the public record
Mates, or is business still being done?
Miller's Linked-in profile showed he worked for Orbis Consulting..Steeles baby
Someone may still have a screenshot but the Linked in account has been scrubbed
Steele gets the call, --"make us up a dossier that dishes the dirt on Donald and smears him with Russia"
Steele hasn't been in Russia for yonks, his old contacts are no longer in power, he's lost touch
But he talks himself up and says he can do it
"Pablo," he says" that Sergei, would he be able to give us a few names a few acronyms, to make the thing look kosher?"
Sergei has been bitching about money...again!...he's got expensive tastes, so Pablo says he'll ask
Next week at the restaurant he asks Sergei
Sergei says "I don't know anything these days, Yulia just works at Pepsi, she can't help"
"Doesn't matter" Pablo says "Just make shit up , a few names , departments etc,acronyms, just make it look real"
So he does..gets a few things wrong, times have changed but who's really looking that close

Time goes by
Sergei is lonely , missing Russia(so we are told by another ex pat Russian), no family in Britain.
Yulia is visiting regularly.
She's 33
She wants to have kids some time soon, but she wants the kids to have at least one grandparent on her side.
She starts nagging Sergey
Sergey starts sniffing out the possibilities of coming home
He goes to the Russian Embassy regularly
They tell him , fuck off after what you did
He says "I've got some information you might be interested in"
About the Steele dossier , and a few other things"
He visits the Embassy some more(we also have this from the same expat Russian reported in one of the newspapers)
Someone sees him leaving the Embassy , and it gets back To Miller and Steele
"The bastard, he's only gone and flipped again!" says Steele
"He'll be blabbing his guts out"
"You fix this Pablo, and I don't want it pointing anywhere towards me, there's a lot riding on that bloody dossier, what with FISA warrants and all"
"Ok Boss" says Pablo
"Hang on a minute says Steele, "Do you think he's said anything to his daughter?"
"Dunno , probably"
"Well like I say , fix it and keep it well away from me"
"OK" says Pablo, he's got a few contacts at Porton Down , and a few ideas are starting to come together....

David Stone said...

Have another look at the question put to Russia. It's a classic "when did you stop beating you wife" question. " Did you do this hit ? Or did you fail to take care of your poison?" When if you have been reading whats out there you will have seen that the stuff was made (if it was ever made) in Uzbekistan under the Soviets and cleaned up with tho help and finance of the USA. Who disposed of the chemicals. If they were all disposed of.
The chemist accredited with inventing the stuff defected to the US (he's a Uzbek ) and published the formula in a book. He claims the whole point of the concoction was that it could be made cheaply from commonly available ingredients in any fertiliser or insecticide making facility.

Victor said...


The only caveat I'd make to your position is that Russia's population is primarily genetically European and our land-based exports are therefore likely to be pleasing to their digestive systems.

Also, it's not a particularly affluent market and therefore one in which we should be able successfully to under-cut the Dutch, Danes and Irish, if and when they get fully involved again.

But, I largely agree that it's not worth placing other, far larger markets at risk over. It certainly isn't a priority and I can't see why anyone imagines it should be when there are other fish to fry.


Of course, Russia has suffered horrendously from western invasions and not just in the twentieth century. Many of its neighbours have suffered too, as a result of Russian occupation. Emotionally, they all have some pretty obvious skin in the game.

It's also the case that the US and EU behaved provocatively in the lead up to the undeclared Russian war against Ukraine and that, after 1991, the West in general behaved with marked insensitivity to both Russia's physical plight and its deeply entrenched sense of vulnerability and wounded pride.

But that in no way justifies Russia's unilateral revision of an international frontier which it had been a party to defining. Similarly, it's not in New Zealand's interest to readily agree with this or any other violation of international law.

A heritage of suffering simply does not serve as an excuse for what would otherwise be inexcusable. And I write as someone who has precisely that sort of heritage.

With it's terrible (and heroic) past, Russia deserves our sympathy and respect. It also deserves careful handling, in its interests and our own. But it doesn't deserve a free pass because no-one deserves that.

Nick J said...

Victor, yes Putin is the best person to diffuse this. The reason why is because the leaders of the West and the media appear to have taken leave of their senses and appear insane in the manner of 1914.

I would repeat hard evidence is required, I have not heard anything circumstantial that doesn't point elsewhere as well. Can't see what's in
it for Putin, meanwhile May and Boris are so badly stuffing up Brexit that a diversion like this is a godsend.

I have no doubt Putin is no angel, I'd suggest if he was Russia would have crumpled in the face of the well documented policy of attempting to confine Russia away from the resources of central Asia and militarization of her western borders. Yes we need sanity and a de-escalation. A good start would be the withdrawal of western troops and missiles from the east.

Victor said...


'Have another look at the question put to Russia. It's a classic "when did you stop beating you wife" question.'

I agree. Nicely described. But, to prolong your analogy, the question's being put to a multiple wife-beater who started his career as a member of a gang of full-time, "patched" serial abusers.

He also had clear motive, though he may have that no longer, now that the main election's taken place. And, of course, he's a proven master of timing, with a sophisticated understanding of how both his own people and westerners are going to react.

Yes, there are other possible explanations, of which the Uzbek angle is the most intriguing. But there's a hint of stubble for Occam's Razor about the others I've heard.

I also think, after observing over many years the way Russian intelligence and propaganda services operate, that if there was any truth in one of these alternative scenarios, someone in the Kremlin would probably know about it and we'd be getting Moscow's account thereof full blast.

So, I continue to applaud Emily Thorberry's description of what's occurred as creating a prima facie case and no more. I also agree with her boss, Jeremy Corbin (of whom I'm no great fan) that there shouldn't be a rush to judgment.

But, just try telling that to the average non-Corbinista Brit at the moment!

And, I agree that the May government's response has been splenetic. But when is it anything else (other than hopelessly at sea over Brexit)?


See my response to David.

May I add that diplomatic expulsions, more trade sanctions, closures of British Council facilities, nay even de-scheduling a visit to Moscow by Wills and Kate to witness England's inevitable disgrace at the World Cup, do not immediately suggest parallels with the kind of madness that led to the outbreak of World War One. They're certainly not going to have the great-grandsons of Stalingrad veterans shaking in their boots.

I agree that NATO's advanced positioning in Eastern Europe might be seen by the Russians as unduly provocative and should, ideally, be scaled back at an early point. But NATO is there in strength, in part at least, because of the far from wholly unjustified fears of its easterly members, who, like the Russians, have long memories.

It's time for everyone to take a deep breath and consider the trajectory they're on....and that includes Mother Russia!

Victor said...


A further point is that the UK government has, in the last few days, more or less crumbled in the face of EU recommendations for post-Brexit transitional arrangements.

So, if Maybot & co. have been deliberately playing the 'Defence' card in these negotiations, it doesn't seem to have worked.

Victor said...

Sorry for the typos.

'Corbyn' and 'Thornberry' and not as given.

David Stone said...

There's no doubt that Mr Putin is capable of ordering the execution of whatever action he deems necessary in the interests of the security of Russia. Three quarters of Russian voters seem to think so anyway. Just as any leader of any major military power is capable of , and does. Some far beyond what is necessary for their countries' security.
But this action by this method is totally destructive of the security of Russia. And of Russia's commercial interests. He is doubtless forthright enough to have this enterprise performed , But can you really believe he is stupid enough? It doesn't work for me.
Cheers David

Victor said...


What can I say? What I know of Russia and its history makes the UK's allegations highly plausible, although, still, unproven.

Nothing would have counted more for Putin than getting back into office with an enhanced voter turn-out, thus enabling him to start establishing his legacy.

And nothing was more likely to deliver that result than Putin again presenting himself to his people as a mixture of Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible (which is better translated as "Ivan the Grave"), Peter the Great and Alexander I, all of whom faced down formidable threats from the West.

Nothing, moreover, more annoys many Russians than an outpouring of western self-righteousness, which was the inevitable concomitant of such an act.

And what are the downsides? Well, Russia has survived economic isolation before and what's threatening it now is surely less than isolation.

And, as to security, nothing, in the traditional Russian mindset, is more guaranteed to make the Motherland secure than a nation united behind a strong leader and filled with righteous anger against the wiles and slanders, real and alleged, of its rivals.

Meanwhile, there's the small matter of disposing of traitors to the Motherland and also, perhaps, of preventing any folks in the know from offering harmful information to Robert Mueller or some such.

Now, if all this seems implausible to you, it may be because you have always lived a long way from Mother Russia, a country which, btw, for all its manifold faults, I greatly admire. And, of course, what seems plausible to me remains, as I acknowledge, unproven.

Victor said...


A further point is that both Trump and Juncker have congratulated Putin on his electoral success.

And, as previously suggested, the EU hasn't responded to Salisbury by weakening its stance in the Brexit negotiations, despite an ostensible need to keep the UK involved with Europe militarily.

Meanwhile, Putin's most trenchant critic, Dr Merkel, has been severely weakened by her own electoral conundra.

So, really, how bad is this going to be for Russia?

David Stone said...

It's plausible enough Victor but not conclusive I think.
"And what are the downsides? Well, Russia has survived economic isolation before and what's threatening it now is surely less than isolation"
I think at least half the world, the half that has time to keep abreast of current affairs , would not agree with this.The doomsday clock is closer to midnight than it has been since 1953 and as close as it has ever been. Russia's security is totally implicated in this assessment.And that was back in January.
The Skripal poisoning is just the latest in a series of disputed accusations and sanctions made by the west against them, none of them proven , all of them denied but sited as corroborating evidence of culpability when every new accusation is made.
The Syrian situation , coupled with America's threatening of Iran has the potential to invoke a military confrontation between US and Russia at any moment. Nicky Haley has recently threatened to attack Damascus unilaterally to curb Syria's clearing rebels from Ghouta, and Lavrov has made it clear that such action would be met with the interception of missiles so directed and the annihilation of whatever facility they were launched from. There's not much doubt about what this action would lead to. Isolation is no comparison, in fact the isolation that has been imposed since the Ukraine conflict has arguably forced Russia to become self sufficient , and improved her security.
" Meanwhile, there's the small matter of disposing of traitors to the Motherland and also, perhaps, of preventing any folks in the know from offering harmful information to Robert Mueller or some such."
It's pretty clear that in all likelihood Skripal has already supplied through Steele , all the information Mueller ever had to start his enquiry. It's at least as likely that what he might have had to add to or to qualify this information was an unacceptable possibility to Hillary Clinton's Democrats as causing embarrassment to Russia . And would be Killing two birds with one stone .
Disposing of traitors an discouraging others is an argument though explaining the choice of timing and place given the abundance of previous opportunity needs a lot of explaining, and it would seem to eradicate the possibility of ever making a spy swap again.
"So, really, how bad is this going to be for Russia."
Potentially Really Bad. And not only for Russia.
Cheers D J S

Victor said...


Yes, the world is far more dangerous than before Trump was elected. It's also more dangerous than before W started his Mid-eastern adventures. And it's more dangerous than before the Ukraine crisis and Moscow's seizure of Crimea or Russia's intervention in Syria, not to mention China's growing assertiveness. In fact, it's very dangerous indeed.

But that, from a patriotic (and slightly paranoid) Russian standpoint, may be precisely why Putin needed to be reelected by a larger turnout than last time and why he needs to be viewed by his voters as someone who shows no mercy to traitors. That, to me, explains both the act and its timing perfectly.

It also seems to me that the UK is a bit out on a limb over this latest issue and its allies aren't as carried away by it as Whitehall would like. So, on its own, this is not a crisis that will send the world to war. But, yes, it could yet form part of a mesh of circumstance that does.

So, I still don't think this affair per se can do Putin a vast deal of harm, even if there was a trail discovered that led back to him. The same would, obviously, not be true if a trail was found that led back to Washington, let alone Whitehall.

So my money's still on Russia, even if this offends against the New Zealand left's fideistic belief in the centrality of the US security services to every single act of skulduggery on the planet.

But, of course, I might be wrong. I suspect we will never know for sure.

Victor said...


Anyhow, to send the doomsday clock even further towards Armageddon, we've now got John Bolton on the job! Who's next? Dick Cheney?

David Stone said...

All fair enough possibilities Victor. And yes the new appointments look ghastly. Wouldn't they fit beautifully with Pence taking over. Perhaps that will be the next move.
It's possible that the brits in this issue are gullible patsies. They do look stupid enough. They are over playing their hand to the point of ridicule even if they turn out to be right.
The Europeans are carefully couching their support in terms of accepting UK's judgement and solidarity, leaving themselves out of culpability if it turns out UK's judgement was bad.
Cheers D J S

David Stone said...

Another desperate thought on the new appointments though. What if Trump knows very well that Pompeo and the war criminal torture lady who is replacing him as CIA head won't be accepted by the senate. What happens to them then? do they go back to their previous positions or have these been filled?
And the Bolton. He gets to be Trump's adviser . On past evidence that job would look like an agony of frustration. So the swamp may be being drained with a siphon from the top instead of a culvert.
You've got to grant I'm an incurable optimist really.
Cheers D J S

Victor said...


"And yes the new appointments look ghastly. Wouldn't they fit beautifully with Pence taking over. Perhaps that will be the next move."

My very thought. It's time to dig our shelters and stock up on canned food.

"What if Trump knows very well that Pompeo and the war criminal torture lady who is replacing him as CIA head won't be accepted by the senate. What happens to them then? do they go back to their previous positions or have these been filled?"

Good questions all.

"You've got to grant I'm an incurable optimist really."

I've mentioned that to you in the past. It's part of your charm.

May I suggest, though, that optimism isn't a trait that Putin or many other Russians share to any marked degree.

As for Maybot, BoJo et al, whilst I don't think they caused this crisis, I nevertheless think they've attempted to play it to convince the EU27 that it really needs the UK (with it's relatively large and battle-tested military establishment) as a mate and should, therefore, go easy in the Brexit negotiations.

They are as facile, silly, confused and self-deluding a bunch as I can ever recall in charge of Britain's future, even if, like Eden or Blair, they haven't invaded anywhere yet.

Have a good week.