Brian Monteith: How Tony Blair helped Russia spin Salisbury attack

There was a major diplomatic coup last week that generally went unremarked while everyone looked about and asked what's really going on between the UK and Russia.

Wednesday, 21st March 2018, 6:00 am
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed suggestions that his country was behind the attempted murder of a Russian double agent in Salisbury

Despite a great deal of whinging, scaremongering and pessimism from doomsayers and partisan ­critics alike – that Britain’s influence is all washed-up after our vote to leave the EU – our Prime Minister won the backing of the US, Germany and France in placing responsibility for the use of a deadly nerve agent in Britain firmly with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This was no mean achievement.

Firstly, for all there is a ­visible degree of doubt and scepticism amongst the public about who is responsible for the poisoning of a ­Russian double-agent, his daughter, and a British police officer who turned up at the scene, the US, ­Germany and France have all weighed up the evidence presented to them and ­concluded that it is incontrovertible. Russia is to blame – either for using the poison or allowing others to use it.

Taking a strong public position against Russia, and Putin in particular, is not something done lightly. So much for the so-called cosy relationship that Donald Trump is meant to enjoy with Putin.

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Until the US stated it was backing the UK, Trump’s critics were piling in on him saying he was shielding Putin – well not now. If you want to see how a strong condemnation of Russia is communicated, go no further than looking up the EU ambassador to the UN making her statement. No prisoners were taken.

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More problematic, one might expect, was winning over Germany and France, for both are heavily ­reliant on Russian natural gas, but they did not put that interest first. Likewise, both have reason to put pressure on Britain because of the Brexit negotiations, but they did not put that interest first either.

European imports of Russian gas are at their highest levels since the trade began, at 193.9 billion cubic metres.

Last year sales to Germany reached an all-time high and French consumption rose by nearly seven per cent. ­Taking a strong position against Putin required strong resolve. Theresa May could have been left to hang by Germany and France – but she wasn’t.

Those of a more open mind might conclude that the information the UK could share with US, Germany and France – which it’s not possible to place in the public domain for it would reveal how and what information we gather, as well as show our hand – has been sufficient to show that the Novichok nerve agent was used and that therefore it is Russia that is culpable. It does not surprise me there are various conspiracy theories being put forward to deny that Putin’s agents, either directly, or indirectly ­contracted out, were responsible for the poisoning.

Could it have been the Russian mafia? Could it have been the UK framing the Russians (our Porton Down biological labs being only eight miles away)?

Could it have been Israeli agents framing Russia? Could it have been a botched kidnap attempt by aliens visiting our planet? OK, I made the last one up but it’s just as likely as the foregoing. All are as mad, sad and bad as each other.

What then comes around are critics suggesting we can’t trust our own agencies but should give sample ­evidence to Russian labs because we can trust them.

Oh really? I’ve read up on the ­chemistry of how the Novichok nerve agent is made – and it is clear to me it was developed by the Russians and could be traceable to them.

The reason for these and other conspiracies can be explained in two words. Tony. Blair.

He took us into the second Iraq War by giving us a dodgy dossier and the public has mistrusted our political leaders ever since. On this occasion, I believe we have to give Theresa May the benefit of the doubt.