The Skripal Case: Stakes Up?

Yesterday’s sharply-worded joint statement on the Skripal case issued by Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, and Theresa May, which included the latest reiteration of the strange accusations leveled against Russia, threatens to push the row between Russia and the West to a new, much more serious level. Why is this happening and and what is motivating these Western leaders?

The tone and content of the statement leave no doubt that the West holds Russia responsible for the attempt on Skripal’s life and that it has no intention of listening to any objections or rebuttals. The demand that Moscow provide answers about its Novichok program is a mere formality. A variety of measures have already been taken against Russia — from the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK to the announcement of new sanctions by France.

What is going on? Do these four leaders really believe that Vladimir Putin issued an order to kill Skripal? In other words, do they believe that the Russian president, a man they have acknowledged to be the most powerful and experienced geopolitical player today, is now a caricatured villain from a James Bond movie? That seems impossible to believe, even taking into account that none of them are too bright.

That means that even they don’t believe in the truth of what they’re accusing Russia of — they’re doing it for purely political reasons. And which ones would those be?

A recent editorial in the Washington Post, “Britain is punishing Putin. America should join in“, offers a pretty complete rundown of which Russian policies the West is so upset about:

So it’s all quite simple: Syria, Ukraine, and the West’s internal affairs. In other words, to put it bluntly, Moscow is supposed to not only rein in its offensive geopolitical game, but also become more accommodating when it comes to Ukraine, Syria, and Europe. But since there’s no way the West is going to see any of these dreams come true — what’s the point of putting pressure on Moscow?

Clearly Trump, Macron, and Merkel all had different motives when they signed their latest statement. Trump needs to shield himself as much as possible against accusations that he’s mollycoddling Russia. Macron needs to demonstrate his solidarity with the common cause (although that won’t stop him from coming to Russia for the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in two months). Nor is Merkel, who only yesterday saw an end to the epic saga over the formation of her new coalition, about to begin her fourth term being “soft on Putin” (which is exactly how the devotees of Atlanticism would view any refusal to sign that joint statement).

But what about Russia? She does not break off relations, is never taken by surprise, and does not respond with insults. What we’re seeing is not something that’s happened just once or twice, but rather hundreds of times in the three hundred years since Russia joined the ranks of the great powers that decide the fate of the world. Russia is accustomed to external pressure and do not pay much attention on it. She keeps the course of creating a new configuration of global powers better corresponding to modern geopolitical realities.

Four great powers, three of which are members of the UN Security Council, are, of course, a mighty force. However, their reaction to the “Skripal affair” has shown that they are being guided from a single command center. Al least half of the joint statement’s sides enjoy only limited sovereignty, unlike Russia and its key Asian partners.

Andrey Fomine is the founder of the open dialogue research journal Oriental Review where this article first appeared. Read other articles by Andrey.