Vlad the Impaler and his useful idiots

Written By: Mike Parker
Published: March 17, 2018 Last modified: March 17, 2018

As Chris Proctor asked recently: is there such a thing as a good Russian?

Well, yes, of course there is. You might find one in some now-outlawed human rights organisation in Moscow or St Petersburg. It just won’t be the kleptocratic, psychopathic narcissist that is Valdimir Putin.

The Salisbury affair – like the war in Syria – has brought out some of the worst in those who believe opposition to almost every aspect of Western foreign (and often domestic) policy therefore requires support for, excuses for, cover for any government, however repulsive, that opposes ‘The West’. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and again: ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ is the philosophy of the imbecile.

I’m not going to bother explaining the degree to which I oppose ‘Western’ foreign policy. I don’t see why I should. That’s not the point. What is the point is that for all the failings of Western ‘liberal’ democracy – for which, let us not forget, many people have died in trying to achieve and improve and defend it – there are worse things in the world. Like being in one of Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, for instance; or being bombed to buggery by Russian jets in Ghouta; or being shot beneath the walls of the Kremlin while the security cameras are undergoing maintenance; or drinking Polonium tea in a sushi bar. Yes, I know about Yemen. I know about the squalid arms deals with the head-cutters and electric-shock merchants of Saudi Arabia. I know about the murderous disaster that was Iraq. I just don’t think that makes it OK to start wafting nerve agents over the green fields of Wiltshire.

Of course, it wasn’t the Russians. Why would it be? What do they have to gain? Why would they do something so stupid? And all to take out a second-rate double-agent they could have ‘disappeared’ during his time in custody back in the FSB’s Lubyanka HQ … just like they did in the good old KGB days.

And so, like ‘9/11 Truthers’, opponents of ‘Western’ hegemony and hypocrisy emerge from the bunkers that protect them from contamination by credible evidence or political intelligence and start spraying the neighbourhood like randy tomcats: “We’re not saying it’s not Russia, but there’s no evidence, and it’s far more likely to be …”

Who? Well, Britain, the US or Israel, natch!

Prime (but by no means sole) disseminators of the alternative narrative(s), under the guise of their sometimes sharp, but often hysterical ‘analyses’ of the MSM (‘mainstream media’) are the shark-jumping Jedward of media criticism at MediaLens (ML). Hardly had Skripal pére et fille been laid in their hospital beds than ML had posted Craig Murray’s early assessment that the proximity of Porton Down was a more likely explanation for the possible presence of nerve agents than Russian revenge. Funny that the recipients of Porton’s alleged largesse were specifically a couple of Russians, and one of them a former double agent … but, hey, there’s always the possibility that machiaevellian May was cynically sacrificing the Skripals to manufacture a crisis with Russia for the purposes of … er, well, we’ll get back to you on that one.

Craig Murray, of course, is a former diplomat, a former ambassador to Uzbekistan, who lost his job for criticising the propensity of that country’s president to have his opponents literally stewed. For that Murray became something of a darling of the left – a rare example of a deep establishment gamekeeper turned poacher. So now, everything he says, however dubious and ill-informed, is a gospel to those elements on the left that would rather eat a cow pat on a termite mound than contemplate how they came to enjoy the intellectual space to blog with such abandon. That Murray is slowly morphing into a 20-teens David Shayler is neither here nor there.

Further comment highlighted by ML came from Nafeez Ahmed , who, being “formerly” (rather than currently) “of the Guardian” (ML’s particular bête noir) ­– though in fact he was just an environmental blogger for the paper for just over a year – is to be particularly trusted … especially when he can come up with gems like: “Far from offering clear-cut evidence trail to Vladimir Putin’s chemical warfare labs, the use of Novichok … points to a wider set of potential suspects, of which Russia is in fact the least likely.” Yeah, Naf, that makes perfect sense.

Cherry-picking OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) reports and interpreting them according to a pre-conceived adducement of Western perfidy, Ahmed – who has written books claiming US government collusion with the 9/11 attackers – claims that not only are the formulas for Novichok agents available in a book by Vil Mirzayanov, the man who first revealed the existence of the substances, but that the US and UK both had “opportunity to learn about this nerve agent for testing and defence purposes”. This is a statement of the bleeding obvious, since the UK was able to identify the substance used in Salisbury relatively quickly. But Ahmed uses this obvious fact – along with historical claims of secret Cold War testing of chemical warfare agents on the British population, and the propensity of Western intelligence agencies to indulge in disinformation and deception, to try to discredit enemies by “planting misinformation designed to look like actions were performed by them” (yes, the good old “false flag” conspiracy theory beloved by “truthers”) – in order to claim that the UK might be trying “to distract from scrutiny of allies who might be legitimate suspects”. And who might that be? Ahmed, believe it or not, quotes Craig Murray, who believes “it is more reasonable to cast the net of suspicion onto Israel for many of the same reasons cited by the British government [in accusing Russia].”

And why Israel? According to Murray (as quoted by Ahmed): “Israel has the nerve agents. Israel has Mossad which is extremely skilled at foreign assassinations. Theresa May claimed Russian propensity to assassinate abroad as a specific reason to believe Russia did it. Well Mossad has an even greater propensity to assassinate abroad. And while I am struggling to see a Russian motive for damaging its own international reputation so grieviously, Israel has a clear motivation for damaging the Russian reputation so grieviously. Russian action in Syria has undermined the Israeli position in Syria and Lebanon in a fundamental way, and Israel has every motive for damaging Russia’s international position by an attack aiming to leave the blame on Russia.”

Ahmed claims that “Russia is the only state to have been certified by the OPCW as having destroyed its chemical weapons programme, including its nerve agent capabilities” – a curiously bold statement considering the evidence provided by former FSB operatives, as well as other journalists, such as Luke Harding, for the continued existence of an FSB facility, Lab X of the SVR at Yasenevo, that can produce poisons and other dodgy materials. Ahmed’s conclusion is that “the state has already decided that it wants to manufacture a path to heightened hostilities with Russia, regardless of the evidence”. So, that’s that then.

The problem with ML and similar propaganda outlets, and their supporters, is that their often justifiable criticism of the West is not balanced by any recognition of the crimes of the West’s “opponents”; on the contrary, claims by “Western” bodies, whether governmental or non-governmental, are automatically dismissed as illegitimate, while any contradictory opinion, from whatever source, however biased or unsupported by evidence, is treated as Truth. And their criticism of the Western media is not balanced by a recognition that, by any standards, the freedom of expression we enjoy in the West, flawed as our rights and the behaviour of the MSM may be, is somewhat greater than that experienced by our equivalents in Russia, Iran, or Syria. To offer RT (formerly Russia Today) or Press TV, for instance, as legitimate alternative sources, without any recognition of the nature of those sources, is simply, grossly dishonest

Another ex-Guardian man, and therefore another of MediaLens’s chosen few, is Jonathan Cook. He expressed concern at the possibility that in the wake of the Salisbury affair Ofcom might be considering a ban on RT, and is outraged that the Guardian should call it “the Kremlin-controlled news channel” – which it most certainly is. Demonstrating a confused child’s grasp of both the media and international politics, he suggests that in response “we start describing the Guardian as an ‘Apple, Unilever and BMW-controlled newspaper”.’ Yes, indeed, Jonathan. And if you ever decide to decamp to Moscow to enhance your journalistic reputation by investigating the corruption of the Russian gangster state, I hope you manage to survive to a comfortable old age, unlike Anna Politkovskaya.

There is, undoubtedly, a propaganda problem. The above and other interventions in the debate over Salisbury (and Syria, Ukraine etc), spread through MediaLens and other online outlets, are often too easily dismissed by the MSM. The alternative narrative is not always the wrong one. Yet their own frequent crassness, stupidity and conspiracy-mongering often prevents them being taken seriously when they do make unpopular but cogent interventions. Anyone who can describe George Monbiot as “hard right”, basically because of his (correct) belief that the Syrian government has been responsible for chemical weapons attacks, is certainly intellectually challenged. And the fanaticism of their on-line followers is legendary – you’ll get more sense out of a room full of Scientologists to whom you’ve just denounced Ron Hubbard as a fraud than you will from ML’s online cohorts. You might as well shoot yourself in the head rather than get into a ‘debate’ with them, because after ten minutes you’ll feel as if you’ve done so anyway.

On the other hand, you don’t need to persuade me that that state is often perfidious, and that the ‘West’ is guilty of many crimes, quite a few of which we know nothing about, and maybe never will. I’m not keen on the continual use of equivalence, though. There is a qualitative difference between Western liberal democracy and the kind of corrupt, kleptocratic autocracy represented by Vladimir Putin, however cuddly he may be compared to others in his region or across the world (some of whom, yes, our governments support, to our shame).

I’m also a great believer in Occam’s Razor – the idea that, on the whole, the simplest and most obvious explanation is usually the correct one. So 16 jihadist fanatics inspired by Osama bin-Laden and funded by al-Queda are more likely to have committed the 9/11 attacks than 16 jihadist fanatics recruited and manipulated by the CIA, who also managed to wire up the Twin Towers with a shitload of high explosives to create a ‘controlled demolition’, thereby sacrificing 3,000 of their own fellow citizens for the purposes of … justifying a war on Iraq, an invasion of Afghanistan, a crackdown on domestic dissent, getting (eventually) a black president … you tell me … And rather than the British state stirring up a crisis to disguise its failures over Brexit, or the economy, or something … or Israel trying to undermine Russia in revenge for its intervention in Syria (as if that was going to damage Putin in the run-up to the elections), it seems more likely that a ruthless, tyrannical, narcissistic, psychopathic egomaniac might use an absurdly and theatrically extreme method, with a substance his own country had developed, to humiliate a weak rival while sending a message to opponents at home and abroad, in the certain knowledge that the worse that will happen is a reduction in the wage bill for FSB operatives at the Russian embassy in London and a few rich bastards having their assets squeezed. Psychopaths often become bolder, more extreme, more outrageous the more powerful and apparently untouchable they become. And besides, he has form…

Just some of the critics of Vladimir Putin who have died in mysterious circumstances

Denis Voronenkov (2017)

Boris Nemtsov (2015)

Boris Berezovsky (2013)

Stanislav Markenov (2009)

Anastasia Baburova (2009)

Sergei Magnitsky (2009)

Natalia Estemirova (2009)

Anna Politkovskaya (2006)

Alexander Litvinenko (2006)

Sergei Yushenkov (2003)

About Mike Parker

Mike Parker is Literary Editor and Production Editor of Tribune