How Russia Views the UK, Supposedly

I have a pretty poor opinion of think tanks. Perhaps it’s academic snobbery, but then again, maybe not. In the past few years, I’ve read too many really bad reports published by think tanks to regard them very highly. Of course, there are exceptions, but in general, their output kind of stinks. Or at least, so it seems to me.

The United Kingdom has a new think tank, pompously entitled the Council on Geostrategy. The name alone gives you a hint that there’s more than a bit of imperial nostalgia involved – dreams of GREAT Britain, and all that. The advisory council is full of retired military folks and regimental-tie wearing Conservative MPs who sit on the parliamentary defence committee. Meanwhile, the staff is replete with cast-offs from the Henry Jackson Society, an institution widely perceived as decidedly neo-conservative in nature (the kind of place that still thinks that invading Iraq was the right thing to do, if you get my drift). In short, ideologically speaking, not my kind of people at all.

The Council on Geostrategy defines its mission as being “to strengthen Britain and re-assert our leadership in an increasingly uncertain and dangerous world. We promote robust new ideas [“robust” – I like that word!!] to enhance our country’s unity and resilience, bolster our industrial and technological base, and boost our discursive, diplomatic and military power – especially our naval reach.” So, you get what these guys are up to: Hurrah Britannia! Britannia rules the waves! We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do, we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too!

Despite only being founded this year, the Council has got off to a running start, and today published a report, written by another Henry Jackson cast-off, Andrew Foxall, with the title “How Russia ‘Positions’ the United Kingdom.” In case you’ve forgotten, Foxall’s the guy who claimed that perhaps half of the 150,000 Russians living in the UK were “informants” for the Russian intelligence services (that’s 75,000 informants, if you can’t do the math – those guys in the SVR must be real busy!). Suffice to say, he’s not no. 1 on my to-go list for reliable analysis of things Russian, but let’s give him a chance and see what he has to say in this report.

Essentially, the point of the report is to discuss how the Russian state views the United Kingdom, and how the UK should respond. I would summarise it as containing occasional words of wisdom surrounded by a mass of highly dubious analysis. What is it Churchill said? Something about the truth being so valuable that you have to surround it with a “bodyguard of lies”. I’m sure the Council on Geostrategy just lurves old Winston with all its soul.

But I digress. Foxall’s starting point is that Russia considers itself a great power, which is a fair enough point. But Foxall then goes off the rails by claiming that Russia views the world in “zero-sum” terms, a claim that he repeats on several occasions. Unfortunately, Foxall produces no evidence for this assertion beyond a footnote referencing Keir Giles’ book Moscow Rules, which I ruthlessly savaged in a review that you can read here (so, not a source I would cite!).

Anyway, according to Foxall, Moscow’s “zero-sum” view of international politics means that Russia engages “in subversion and destabilisation of countries it perceives as adversaries … since it is only through weakening them that Russia can prosper.” Or as he says later, “Proceeding from this ‘zero-sum approach’ … Russia only feels secure when other countries feel threatened.” And, yet again, he refers to Russia’s “belief that the insecurity of other countries makes Russia more secure.”

I find in reviews like this that I keep repeating the complaint that authors fail to justify their claims with evidence. This is the case here. What’s the evidence that Russia has a “zero-sum” approach to international affairs? Or that “Russia only feels secure when other countries feel threatened?” I can’t say that I’ve ever read or heard any Russian official or international affairs expert say any such thing. And as I pointed out in my review of Keir Giles’ book, it’s not practical – there’s no way that any state could actually operate in that way. Furthermore, the Russian Federation engages in numerous international and multilateral institutions, signs international agreements, seeks cooperation with other states, and so on. “Zero sum” thinking isn’t how it operates. Indeed, at one point in his report, Foxall mentions official Russian documents that talk of seeking “mutually beneficial bilateral ties” with European states. “Mutually beneficial” is hardly “zero sum.”

Proof that Russia is engaged in “subversion and destabilisation” is also lacking. The only examples referred to appear on the cover page and are “the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko in 2006 and the nerve-agent attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal in 2018.” However noxious these were, and however concerning to the British, they were not efforts to subvert or destabilise the UK. Rather, they were efforts to murder people perceived as traitors. The fact that they happened to be in the UK is neither here nor there, as the UK itself was not the target. If he wants to demonstrate “subversion and destabilisation”, Foxall has to do better than this.

These aren’t the only dubious claims, however. For Foxall also repeatedly insists that it Russia is seeking to “undermine” the international order, and also to undermine any states that “uphold” that order. Again, evidence is not provided. It’s just taken for granted. The only support that Foxall provides for his position is a statement by Vladimir Putin complaining that the US was throwing the international system into imbalance by the reckless pursuit of its own interests, and that, as Putin said,

If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.

Foxall claims that “In this way, Russia positions the UK as an adversary, an upholder of a post-Cold War international system with which Russia is deeply unhappy.” But that’s not what Putin said. What the quote shows is not that Putin is seeking to destroy the international order, but that he sees the United States and its allies as destroying the international order, and implicitly, himself as defending it. That’s something very different.

All this, though, is just scene-setting for the core of the report, which is about Russian attitudes specifically to the UK. Here Foxall is a bit better, noting that Russia on the one hand views the UK as a “second-tier power” that isn’t capable of conducting an independent foreign policy, but on the other hand considers the UK to be perhaps its bitterest foe, in the sense that no other country is as hostile to Russia as is Britain.

This, I think, is fair enough. Unfortunately, Foxall rather ruins the effect by some odd comments complaining that Russia accuses the UK of double standards. So it does, and rightly so, but Foxall doesn’t think it’s right. Russian accusations of double standards are “false equivalencies … even if the two are, from a neutral perspective, not even remotely similar,” he says, He then complains that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov mentioned the Falkland Islands. Of course, Foxall could instead have drawn attention to the invasion of Iraq, the toppling of Gaddafi in Libya, British support for the brutal Saudi war in Yemen, or any other number of things, but for some odd reason he doesn’t! “False equivalencies” indeed – but perhaps not in the way that Foxall imagines.

In short, the conclusion is that Russia thinks that the UK is an enemy, and it’s all Russia’s fault that it thinks that way. In part, I’d say it is. But only in part, and the failure to recognize that it takes two to tango has serious implications. Which brings us on to Foxall’s policy recommendations for the UK.

A couple of these are quite sensible. For instance, Foxall condemns what he calls the “use of childish language” by British politicians when talking about Russia. One has to agree. In addition, he writes the following:

Russia’s efforts to destabilise and subvert the UK [never actually demonstrated in the report – PR] … requires the UK to strengthen its societal cohesion. It follows that London’s response to the spectrum of threats that Moscow poses [again, never demonstrated] should begin by taking the focus off Russia and putting it on the UK.

In other words, the UK’s real problems are internal and that’s what the British government should focus on. This is by far the most sensible thing that Foxall says, but one does wonder why it’s the supposed “threat” from Moscow that dictates that measures be taken to enhance “societal cohesion”. Shouldn’t that be a national priority anyway??? Beyond that, Foxall’s view of how the UK should “renew its democratic values and principles” is a little strange, as his one specific proposal is that the UK “adopt legislation akin to the US’ Foreign Agents Registration Act’. Wouldn’t that be the same type of legislation that when introduced in Russia was widely denounced as an assault on democracy??

All in all, what have we got? Some unsubstantiated claims about Russia’s zero-sum thinking and desire to destabilize both the international order in general and the UK in particular, followed by some ok-ish statements about how Russians view Britain, rounded off with some rather wishy-washy policy recommendations (the UK should: refer to Russia as a “kleptocracy”; “use clear and direct messaging”; and “engage with the Russian people”). It’s not the worst thing I’ve read, but overall, it’s pretty much what I’ve come to expect from think tanks. And you know how I feel about them.

44 thoughts on “How Russia Views the UK, Supposedly”

  1. “What’s the evidence that Russia has a “zero-sum” approach to international affairs? Or that “Russia only feels secure when other countries feel threatened?”

    Now, that is easy – who needs evidence when you can project your way of thinking onto others?

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    1. He makes Russia sound like those aliens in that old classic Star Trek episode — you know the one — they thrived on other people’s pain and sorrow! To banish them, Captain Kirk ordered the crew to laugh their heads off and act giddily happy all the time. Maybe that’s what England should do. Their joy will cause Russia to fall into depression….

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    2. Same view among Yank neocon/neolib leaning folks. Reference Michael McFaul as one example. In actuality, he’s doing projection. Has McFaul ever found fault with anyone/nation in disagreement with Russia. Imagine what he’s spinning right now about Russia-Ukraine.

      Another flub is the overrated blowhard Tom Friedman, who says Russia under Putin is constantly trolling the US. Friedman said this on Fareed Zakaria’s often flawed CNN show, right after Biden called Putin a killer at the prodding of George Stephanopoulos.

      Russia substantively counter punches its detractors – something which the latter continues to have problems with. They aren’t honest about it. Case in point is Carla Robbins, once of The NYT and now with the CFR:

      https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2020/08/18/us-foreign-policy-establishments-obsession-with-russia/

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  2. “…but one does wonder why it’s the supposed “threat” from Moscow that dictates that measures be taken to enhance “societal cohesion”. Shouldn’t that be a national priority anyway???”

    Hmm. Arguably, no. If the ruling class can achieve its goals without “societal cohesion”, there is no reason to take measures. Perhaps it would even make sense to take measures to reduce “societal cohesion” – that’s exactly what they currently do in the US, don’t they?

    But if Moscow + the lack of “societal cohesion” do create serious problems (actually, I did hear a couple of years ago in a London pub that Putin is Absolutely The Greatest), then yes.

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    1. thanks… this doesn’t surprise me and seems to be one of the underlying objectives of the uk’s actions too..

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  3. you write of Litvinenko and Skripal “Rather, they were efforts to murder people perceived as traitors.”. You often criticize other writers for making assertions without evidence Do you have any evidence for your statement? I have seen nothing other than unsupported british assertions that these alleged attacks were efforts to murder perceived traitors.

    As for british societal “cohesion”, after sixty years of multiculturalism now compounded with woke identity politics, what are the chances the british will achieve that cohesion they actually had until the fifties, but have since been energetically throwing away with both hands?

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    1. Yes, chris, I didn’t like that phrase either… but like it or not, this is what most Westerners believe. And it often makes sense to argue within your opponent’s belief system.

      Sad thing is, in the battle of “narratives”, the whole notion of truth becomes essentially obsolete. Irrelevant. Did “the Russians” really do it? Unfortunately, in the depressing reality we inhabit, it’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the Western public completely bought into it.

      So yes, what Paul said about Litvinenko&Skripal conforms with official narrative. But lo and behold, even within it, Foxall’s argument collapses. Q.E.D. Job done.

      Re. the truth. A handful of interested M.Sc.’s and Ph.D.’s know that the official narrative of Skripal poisoning is pretty much incompatible with physical reality. Guess we could go around and convince a handful of sympathetic nerds capable of following our arguments, but, again, in the depressing reality we inhabit, it’s irrelevant. We can’t hope to make a dent in The Russia Narrative.

      Paul, on the other hand, may just succeed in making small dents from within, and avoiding tripwire issues such as this is probably a smart way to go about it.

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      1. Both Litvinenko and Skripal are highly dubious cases, no doubt. Concerning the earlier case, Foxall links to the official inquiry. I did have a high amount of sympathy for David Habakkuk’s efforts to dissect the official argument. David is a sometimes contributor to Paul’s comment section. He made me aware of Paul’s blog.

        As it is with official inquiries they never seem to get us to ‘the truth’, and nothing but the truth. Personally I wasn’t satisfied with the earlier British David Kelly inquiry either.

        For Foxall, no doubt the Skripal case is highly important, in the British soft-power alliance power scenario.

        The Russian media quotes he uses in his larger argument (seemingly with a lot of help from within the Council of Geostrategy) are what is interesting. So people working in Russian public media are more free to utter pretty much the same that people in ‘the West’ can only express in alternative media?

        The first of his quotes taken out of context (?) sounds provocatively militaristic though. At least to this nitwit:

        “Speaking in March 2018, Vladimir Yermakov, Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained:
        Logically, there are only two possible options: it’s either
        the British authorities are incapable of ensuring protection
        against, figuratively speaking, a terrorist attack on their
        territory, or they directly or indirectly, I am not accusing
        anyone of anything, orchestrated the attack.

        Fair enough.

        “Host of Rossiya 1’s flagship current affairs show Vesti Nedeli (‘News of the Week’), Kiselov has a reputation for extravagant tirades
        demonising the West. Speaking in the aftermath of the
        Skripal poisoning, he said:
        They immediately tried to pin it on Russia…But if you think
        about it closely, the only people who stand to gain from the
        poisoning of the former GRU colonel are the British. Just to
        stimulate their Russophobia.

        Fair enough.

        Or this one, to some extent Paul’s reference to the ‘75,000 informants’ in mind:

        “In March 2018, Kirill Kleymenov, a presenter on Channel One’s flagship Vremya news programme, said:
        Whatever the reasons, whether you’re a professional
        traitor to the motherland or you just hate your country in
        your spare time, I repeat, no matter, don’t move to
        England.

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      2. Ok, I’ll cite just ONE technical argument against the official version of Skripal poisoning.

        Here is a super lethal agent, with LD50 supposedly 5-7 times lower than VX. So the amount roughly equivalent to 5 grains of sugar kills adult male. It acts fast – a battlefield agent, designed for efficiency. Plus, organophosphorus nerve agents have famously steep dose-response curves, meaning the difference between the dose causing mild symptoms and the lethal dose is very small.

        According to The Narrative, there was a delayed onset of symptoms. With percutaneous route some delay is to be expected, but 4 hrs? Of course, there are all sorts of modified release formulations. What is implied here, however, is a “delayed pulse” release liquid topical formulation, with a long but super precise delay time, apparently independent of physical factors like dosage, exposure area, etc. If such technologies existed, modern drug delivery would have been a VERY different field!

        But jargon aside, let’s consider the situation. We have a large older male and a small younger female (all these factors matter&bioagent doses are always measured per kg of body weight). Both are exposed to random doses of a topical liquid formulation of this super lethal agent with a steep dose-response curve. As a result, both feel great for a while, then suddenly collapse SEVERAL HOURS LATER BUT AT THE EXACT SAME TIME!

        How likely is this outcome?! Even in lab experiments, where people carefully weigh each test animal, carefully apply identical doses over identical skin patches, controlling for all sorts of environmental factors, the data always vary widely! Like, 12 min to 112 min range widely – order of magnitude!

        So how likely is the scenario where Skripal and his daughter are miraculously exposed to doses/conditions exactly matching their differences in weight, sex, age and diet, to produce these closely matched onset-of-symptoms responses? And after nearly identical, but very long delays?

        I’d say it’s about as likely as Skripal tunneling from Britain to New Zealand as a result of a random quantum event.

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      3. There are of course many articles regarding the contradictions, impossibilities, red herrings, mis- and disinformation, obfuscations reported on by the indefatigable Helmer at Dances with Bears, and Rob Slane has an interesting comment and compilation:

        https://www.theblogmire.com/the-salisbury-poisonings-two-years-on-a-riddle-wrapped-in-a-cover-up-inside-a-hoax/

        ” I’ve recounted 40 of the most glaring, although I’m sure regular readers here can think of many, many more. In case of doubt, I have annexed a comment next to each point, depending on whether it fits into the absurd, implausible or impossible category, although I understand that some readers may well think it remiss of me not to have given some of them more than one of those descriptions”

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      4. Lola,
        one no doubt would assume there are a multitude of ways to kill more discreetely. Thus both cases Litvinenko and Skripal are highly spectacular.

        Your background is in the natural sciences. One nitwit question, if I may? If someone used such poisons, both really, wouldn’t experts be able to train him or her to use it without leaving traces almost everywhere?

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  4. thanks for this and all your articles… bottom paragraph typo – “All in all, what have got?” missing something here…

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    1. Moon, there’s a million common sense things that don’t make sense! However, people rarely change opinions based on circumstantial evidence.
      Truth be told, even iron-clad proofs often fail to persuade…. As I said, it’s a narrative war, and the strength of a narrative is measured by it’s ability to lodge itself in the minds of the intended audience, not by it’s relation to the truth or even common sense.

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      1. a narrative is measured by it’s ability to lodge itself in the minds of the intended audience

        That’s something I understood or learned to deal with post 9/11 media wisdom, not least the tale that Mohamed Atta’s Testament had mysteriously survived somewhere on American ground. Which in hindsight may have been the starting point.

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      2. Lola,

        You have raised a very important issue, and hardly a new one.

        Back in 1713, John Arbuthnot, a friend and collaborator of, among others, Jonathan Swift, wrote a kind of ‘spoof’ prospectus for the then equivalent of today’s ‘crowdfunded’ books, called ‘The Art of Political Lying.’

        Both men had been heavily involved in what might today be called ‘strategic communications’ in support of the attempts of the then Tory government to find a negotiated end to the ‘War of the Spanish Succession’ – which are also part of the background to Swift’s most famous work, ‘Gulliver’s Travels.’

        So Arbuthnot was writing from experience when he discussed the question you brought up, of whether, when attacking an opposing ‘narrative’, it was prudent to ‘argue within your opponents’ belief system.’

        Partly because of the credulity which he suggested had become pervasive, he argued that, commonly, ‘the properest Contradiction to a Lye is another Lye’, giving as an example:

        ‘So there was not long ago a Gentleman, who affirmed, that the Treaty with France, for bringing Popery and Slavery into England, was sign’d the 15th of September; to which another answered very judiciously, not by opposing Truth to his Lye, That there was no such treaty; but that, to his certain knowledge, there were many things in that Treaty not yet adjusted.’

        As it happens, I first came across Paul through an article in the ‘Spectator’, back in 2004, when Boris Johnson was editor, which was headlined ‘Putin’s might is White.’

        (See https://web.archive.org/web/20150515055408/http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/10th-january-2004/18/putins-might-is-white .)

        When I later discovered that its author had been a contemporary of Johnson, at Eton and Oxford, and the two men were acquiring reputations, in academia and politics, it seemed to me at least possible that Paul might be able to do something towards combatting the kind of ‘return of Karla’ view of the Putin dear to people close to the sometime ‘Spectator’ editor, like Dominic Cummings.

        So, yes, I have been able to see that there might be positive advantages in someone in his position avoiding too radical a questioning of the conventional ‘narrative’ about the cases of Alexander Litvinenko, and Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

        However, other remarks by Arbuthnot also seem relevant:

        ‘he Warns the Heads of Parties against Believing their own Lyes, which has prov’d of pernicious Consequence of late, both a Wise Party, and a Wise Nation having regulated their Affairs upon Lyes of their own Invention. The causes of this he supposes to be, too great a Zeal and Intenseness in the Practice of this Art, and a vehement Heat in mutual Conversation, whereby they perswade one another, that what they wish, and report to be true, is really so.’

        When Joe Biden was happy to describe Putin as ‘a killer’, we were seeing the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of a whole pattern of attitudes, involved with which is a complete inability to understand why very many people, in Russia, China, and other places – including Syria and Iran – lack enthusiasm for the kind of ‘régime change’ projects with which so many in Washington and London remain infatuated.

        As events in Ukraine are demonstrating, the propensity of people in these capitals to ‘perswade one another, that what they wish, and report to be true, is really so’, is now causing them to go down routes, which remind me of a sentiment Ms. Heidi Blake attributes to Arkadi ‘Badri’ Patarkatsishvili.

        In an account of a visit by Litvinenko to Georgia in 2005 which has some interesting overlap with one by that figure’s supposed assassin, Andrei Lugovoi, she suggests that his long-term partner was driven to suggest that ‘Berezovsky’s loopy schemes would be the death of all of them one of these days: he was sure of it.’

        And this is one reason why some of us who are lack both the potential advantages and the associated contraints of those in Paul’s position have been asking ourselves whether there are means by which what is clearly a kind of intellectual ‘bubble’ could be ‘pricked.’

        It here becomes material that, in my view, the available evidence strongly suggests that the preferred strategy of the Russian authorities, in relation to what seem to me the patent ‘Lyes’ told by their British counterparts about Litvinenko and the Skripals alike, has been been a variant of that recommended by Arbuthnot.

        An interesting example of this comes in the collection of documents published by the Prosecutor General’s Office, in April 2018, clearly designed to counter the ways in which the British were linking the two cases.

        (For an ‘RT’ report, with links to the documents released, see https://www.rt.com/news/423554-litvinenko-polonium-london-berezovsky/ ; for the PGO statement, see https://www.rusemb.org.uk/fnapr/6479 )

        Most of these documents develop a case, repeatedly developed by Lugovoi, that the supposed ‘poison pen plot’ against Berezovsky in 2003, which was used to justify the refusal of the Russian request for his extradition and granting of asylum, was a crude ‘false flag’ in which Litvinenko and Alex Goldfarb ‘manufactured’ the crucial evidence, using Vladimir Terluk.

        The use to which the PGO put this material was to ‘invert’ the British ‘narrative’, accepting that the only possible explanation of Litvinenko’s death was deliberate murder, but suggesting that the plausible explanation lay in the need of Berezovsky to get rid of someone who knew too much, and might tell.

        An unfortunate effect of this, in my view, is that the PGO made what to my mind is a very inadequate use to another crucial document I had not seen before: The statement in November 2009 by the Hamburg ‘Staatsanwalt’ Holger Redder, explaining the dropping of the case against Dmitri Kovtun, Lugovoi’s ‘partner in crime’ according to the ‘narrative.’

        To understand what ‘dynamite’ this is, and also the way that, in my view, the PGO failed to ‘explode’ it, one must be aware of a problem which was brought into sharp relief by the summary of the conclusions of Owen’s report produced immediately prior to its publication on 21 January 2016 by one of Christopher Steele’s principal ‘stenographers’, Luke Harding of the ‘Guardian.’

        (See https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/19/alexander-litvinenko-the-man-who-solved-his-own-murder .)

        To make sense of this, it may be helpful to make use of an English board game, ‘Cluedo’ – known as ‘Clue’ in the United States. According to the ‘narrative’ Owen was attempting to defend, there was unambiguous evidence, in regard to Litvinenko’s death, that ‘It was Andrei Lugovoi and/or Dmitri Kovtun, with the polonium, in the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel.

        When Harding entitled his summary of Owen’s report ‘Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder’, he was alluding to the ‘evidence’ of the interviews supposedly conducted with this figure by then Detective Inspector Brent Hyatt of Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) on 18-20 November 2006.

        According to these, the first and last terms of this solution occurred to the victim immediately after he drank green tea with the dastardly killers Lugovoi and Kovtun in the Pine Bar in the late afternoon of 1 November 2006.

        A simple problem with this is that the ‘Pine Bar’ part of this solution only surfaces in public on 7 December. When the story was broken, by Litvinenko himself and Akhmed Zakayev on ‘Chechenpress’ on 11 November, moreover, the ‘Lugovoi’ element was conspicuous by its absence.

        The clear suggestion was that it might be ‘Mario Scaramella, with an unknown toxin, at the Itsu sushi bar.’

        Not only up to 7 December, but after it, and indeed in some ways up to the present, key figures involved in the Berezovsky ‘information operations group’, which was in turn linked to Christopher Steele and MI6, have actually signally failed to unite behind the ‘narrative’ which Owen and Harding defended.

        A key point about their ‘narrative’, meanwhile, is that to make it cohere, the contamination on the photocopier in Berezovsky’s offices has to be explained by a visit by Litvinenko after the Pine Bar meeting, while given that his rendez-vous with Scaramella at the Itsu clearly preceded this event, it is absolutely necessary that the Italian should not have been contaminated.

        By accepting earlier accounts according to which Litvinenko visited Berezovsky’s offices before the Pine Bar meeting, and also that Scaramella was contaminated, Redder was implying that while he would have been quite familiar with the ‘narrative’ around which Goldfarb and Steele had united, he thought it was ‘Lyes.’

        It then becomes rather interesting to look beyond Owen’s conclusions, and what was said at the hearings, and examine the ‘small print’ of material he did allow to be admitted into evidence.

        A reasonably diligent search will reveal that both the Italian ‘carabinieri’, and Scaramella himself, believed he had been contaminated.

        Yet more interesting, is what a more careful search – which I regret to say I was tardy in undertaking – reveals about what people in Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) actually think.

        If one looks at all carefully at the maps submitted from that organisation, shortly before the opening of the hearings, one will note that they both refer to, and endorse, evidence indicating that Litvinenko visited Berezovsky’s offices, not only after the Pine Bar meeting, but before that event and the meeting at the Itsu.

        One closer inspection, however, it appears that SO15 appear to believe that Berezovsky might have had powers similar to those with which Mikhail Bulgakov endowed Woland in ‘The Master and Margarita’ – if not indeed exceeding them. Admittedly, crossing Mayfair in six minutes is not quite up with the feat of Styopa Likhodeyev, in traversing the 1000 kilometres to Yalta in five, but it is equally impossible to do on the ground.

        However, reverse time travel, which Litvinenko performs twice on the maps, is really a bit better than any of Bulgakov’s characters do. So, if one takes these at face value, the only possible explanation would seem to be that the detectives involved must have been pouring port on top of vodka, like Styopa.

        An alternative possibility however is that these maps are both deliberately designed to point to a true ‘timeline’ of events on 1 November 2006, and also may be in part a response to the efforts of some of us to prevent Owen’s Inquiry turning into a rerun of that of Lord Hutton into the death of Dr David Kelly.

        It here becomes material that, just as the maps do, Lugovoi has habitually ‘talked out of both sides of his mouth.’ In his initial response to the request submitted on 22 May 2007 by the Crown Prosecution Service for his extradition, he also inverted the narrative – pointing to Berezovsky, and MI6, as possible suspects.

        Shortly afterwards, however, he ‘glossed’ his claims about the involvement of both that figure and Litvinenko with MI6 rather differently:

        ‘Besides, Litvinenko was recruited by them – I know that for a fact. And he had a handler, a person who knows about all his meetings and contacts. In other words, British intelligence must have known whether Litvinenko’s death was accidental, a result of handling polonium incautiously. At the very least, they must have known he was handling polonium.’

        As it happens, although Harding denied it, it seems reasonably clear that the ‘handler’ was Christopher Steele, which makes the interrelations between the Litvinenko mystery and ‘Russiagate’ rather interesting.

        It also becomes material that the direction in which the actual evidence from the Hamburg investigators, the carabinieri, and the maps produced within SO15 point is rather clearly towards this second, alternative view.

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      3. Highly appreciated David. Believe it or not. The traces were more spontaneous from what felt a bit from within top of my head babbling spaces. But that is an interesting link. Glad you are still around.
        Be well, my friend.

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      4. Off-topic
        David, on the old SST blog there was a link allowing one to follow your or other author’s contributions. Some no doubt disappeared from that list over time.

        What’s your guess, why the topics and author’s linked on the old SST disappeared on the new exiled on? …

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      5. moon,

        Actually, if you click on ‘Browse by category’ at the new site, the full list of authors from the old one appears, including ‘Habakkuk.’

        However, your comment has alerted me to a puzzle.

        All my posts going back to those in April 2017 dealing with Syrian CW matters which were – and still are – listed on ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’ are are also listed on the new Iceland-based ‘Wordpress’ site, at https://turcopolier.com/.

        These include a 3 February 2018 discussion of issues raised by the ‘Nunes Memorandum’, my most extended attempt to date show how a looking beyond the conventional ‘narrative’ on Litvinenko is indispensable to making sense of ‘Russiagate.’

        (See https://turcopolier.com/habakkuk-on-longtime-sources/ .)

        However, fifteen pieces linked to on the old site, making up all my ‘posts’ between April 2017 and April 2010, seem to have vanished into a ‘memory hole’ on the new one.

        Among these is my initial response to Sir Robert Owen’s report on the death of Litvinenko, posted two days after its publication on 21 January 2016.

        (See https://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2016/01/david-hakkuk-on-sir-robert-owens-inquiry.html .)

        The likelihood of Colonel Lang wanting to remove these posts would seem negligible. So, I am puzzled.

        Also still available on both sites is my ‘debut’ on ‘SST’, back in November 2005.

        This was a defence of a ‘liberal’ tradition of intelligence, central to the ability of Britain to avoid defeat in two world wars, against a – in my view particularly inane, and also patently ‘Russophobic’ – attempt by two prominent ‘neoconservatives’, Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt, to use the ideas of their master Leo Strauss on ‘esoteric writing’ against it.

        (See https://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2005/11/habakkuk_onleo_.html )

        Looking back at what I wrote then, in the light of what I have learnt since, I am if anything even more convinced that Strauss was a charlatan whose influence has been pernicious.

        What makes the argument of greater relevance is that he exemplifies, and encourages, an intellectual vice to which most of us, to a greater or lesser extent, are vulnerable. Serious intellectual rigour demands that we are very commonly prepared to consider deception as an hypothesis, but rather rarely to treat it as a presumption.

        What Strauss does is to endow a normal human propensity, to ignore the possibility of deception when a ‘narrative’ we like is being supported, and take it for granted when what we want to believe is in question, with a ‘fig leaf’ of intellectual respectability.

        A corollary of this propensity, which can be acutely dangerous in intelligence analysis, is that the ‘reverse side of the coin’ of treating what people one is predisposed to dislike say with unthinking scepticism is liable to an equally unthinking credulity about what their opponents claim – a situation which astute ‘information operations’ people can exploit.

        In 2005, I was concerned with Ahmad Chalabi’s ability to inveigle us into a conflict in Iraq, rather than Boris Berezovsky’s ability to do so in one with Russia.

        But the way that Andrei Lugovoi developed remarks originally made in the 31 May 2007 press conference where he responded to the request for his extradition in his 4 March 2011 ‘witness statement’ in support of Vladimir Terluk, available on the ‘Evidence’ page of the archived website of Owen’s Inquiry, fits in rather well with my argument.

        The lawsuit that Berezovsky had brought, and won, against Terluk had at its centre the latter’s claim that Litvinenko and Alex Goldfarb had attempted to entangle him in a ‘false flag’ assassination plot, supposedly using a ‘poison pen’, against Berezovsky back in 2003.

        In addition to claiming that Berezovsky’s long-standing partner, ‘Badri’ Patarkatsishvili, had told him the plot was bogus, Lugovoi claimed in the ‘witness statement’, that Litvinenko himself had described the British as ‘easy meat’ for deception operations of this kind:

        ‘Mr Litvinenko told me that, all decision makers/judges are all “idiots” (his word)(in England) about Russia. They believe in all the “bullshit” (his word) that we say about Russia. He said that they (the UK Authorities) will believe in whatever you say, but it should have some flavour of scandal, dictatorship, or “KGB”.’

        Although the publicly available evidence is inadequate to establish whether or not Litvinenko actually said this, it is I think important to look at the issue in the context of the version of the relationship between Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili that Lugovoi sets out in the witness statement.

        In terms of the Arbuthnot piece to which I referred, the picture he paints is of Berezovsky and his associates, notably Litvinenko and Goldfarb, as precisely the kind of people who have ‘regulated their Affairs upon Lyes of their own Invention’, and in so doing managed to ‘perswade one another, that what they wish, and report to be true, is really so.’

        And indeed, Lugovoi claims that Patarkatsishvili described the members of Berezovsky’s entourage who Terluk was suggesting orchestrated the bogus ‘poison pen plot’ as ‘two idiots’ who were encouraging Berezovsky in delusions that were leading him in disastrous directions.

        In committing himself very publicly to an attempt to unseat Vladimir Putin, Lugovoi suggests he and Patarkatsishvili both believed, Berezovsky had embarking on a gamble which was not only likely to fail, but whose predictable result was to jeopardise the business empire which his partner had played a critical, if much less conspicuous, role, in creating.

        It is here material that Lugovoi’s claim that Patarkatsishvili believed that the ‘two idiots’, that is Litvinenko and Goldfarb, had a significant share of responsibility for this situation ‘meshes’ with key parts of Ms. Heidi Blake’s account of the visit of the former and Yuri Felshtinsky to Georgia in 2005.

        The suggestion that, before telling the pair to get out immediately, a ‘livid’ Patarkatsishvili told them that ‘Berezovsky’s loopy schemes would be the death of them all one of these days’ does I think confirm that tensions between the partners had become acute.

        As both Owen’s report and Ms. Blake’s book illustrate, the kind of ‘narrative’ which Goldfarb and Litvinenko disseminated, has been remarkably successful with those Lugovoi certainly regards as their fellow ‘idiots’ in London, and Washington.

        A situation was thus created – and here I am ‘glossing’ Lugovoi’s account – where Berezovsky’s partner was caught between the need to play lip-service to a ‘narrative’ which it was not politic to question in either city, and the fact that one could not operate successfully in the post-Soviet space in terms of it.

        An ironic effect, however, may have been that when the tensions on whose existence both Lugovoi and Ms. Blake are agreed helped precipitate some very unexpected developments in London in October-November 2006, situations were created, in making sense of which aspects of Strauss’s notion of ‘esoteric writing’ are very relevant.

        Where there are very cogent reasons for not challenging a ‘narrative’, but equally cogent ones for signally dissent in inconspicuous ways, trying to ‘finesse’ the resulting conflicts does commonly lead people to, as it were, ‘talk out of both sides of their mouth.’

        Confronted by the fact that the actual evidence did not ‘mesh’ with the preferred ‘narrative’, people in SO15 clearly decided to collude in the suppression of the relevant evidence by Owen, but include key ‘pointers’ to the truth in the maps they produced of Litvinenko’s movements on 1 November 2006 – and also those of Lugovoi and Kovtun.

        Long before I gave these the attention they merit, I had concluded that the claim, central to Owen’s report, that Litvinenko arrived at Oxford Circus tube station at 13.34 on 1 November was BS, for reasons set out in my immediate response to Owen’s report.

        It took me some time to realise that the maps were – ‘esoterically’ – telling me that what I had already suspected, and explained in my submissions to Owen’s team and SO15, was right.

        The vehicle which brought Litvinenko into central London, in the morning, not after midday, was the same as took him back home, in the evening – the Merc belonging to the Chechen insurgent leader Akhmed Zakayev.

        Of course, if this was so, not only is the claim that the police established that Litvinenko was clear of contamination when he arrived in central London false – it would have been impossible to prove this by testing the vehicle.

        What I took longer to realise was that the maps also established that I had made a mistake, and been stupidly slow to contemplate the possibility that, rather than one or two visits by Litvinenko to Berezovsky’s Down Street offices on 1 November 2006, there were at least three and perhaps four.

        Even more, ironically, it becomes possible to see how both Lugovoi, and Patarkatsishvili, had ended up in a classic ‘Straussian situation.’

        In the enormously difficult position in which his refusal of Putin’s suggestion he, as it were, ‘do an Abramovich’ had put him by late 2006, the last thing that Berezovsky’s long-standing partner could afford to do was to challenge the ‘narrative’ by admitting that the ‘loopy schemes’ had pushed him into seeking an accommodation with Putin.

        That Patarkatsishvili was playing a ‘double game’ has not been in dispute since the arguments over his estate erupted, following his death in February 2008.

        What Berezovsky wanted to claim is that these were simply a ruse, to fool the Russian authorities. However, if you look carefully at the ‘witness statement’ that Patarkatsishvili gave to SO15 on 20 January 2007, it is clear that, ‘esoterically’, he was siding with Lugovoi, against his accusers.

        When Berezovsky, and his associates in MI6, ‘escalated’ the situation with the request for that figure’s extradition in May 2007, the response from Lugovoi – which must have been agreed with Patarkatsishvili – was to explain, esoterically, that the two of them had broken with his accuser.

        So, in describing Berezovsky as Patarkatsishvili’s ‘former partner’ in business, and himself as that figure’s current ‘business partner’, Lugovoi was essentially destroying the attempt by the figure he described as his ‘friend’, in the 20 January ‘witness statement’ to challenge the ‘narrative’ without being seen to do so.

        Moreover, once one grasps that much of what is to be seen in these texts is ‘between the lines’, it becomes possible to notice ‘esoteric’ hints, in what Lugovoi said, of what is likely to be the truth.

        So, Litvinenko, rather than thinking of betraying Berezovsky, is likely to have been his instrument, in ‘double games’, designed to ‘ferret’ out those whose reluctance to become further involved in his ‘loopy schemes’ was calling their actual current allegiances into question, and also to punish those who would not display to him the kind of unquestioning loyalty which, with his deeply rooted egomania, he took for granted was his due.

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  5. Hehe, if you want to know what kind of subversive activities against Russia the US, UK & friends engage in, you only need to read what they accuse Russia of. The majority of those things is projection of their own scheming activities. These people have no imagination.

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  6. The good critics are people who are not afraid to face their peers with actual problems and can help them to recognize their failures and to find strength to overcome them.
    The bad critics criticize what they don’t like.
    The worst critics… well, these are the worst critics.

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  7. Another Westminster ‘think tank’. Getting pretty crowded round there these days! London looks more like Washington every year. Maybe they should be paying a little more attention to the nefarious effects that the US has on the UK political system and its constant interference in this ‘proud, robust’ nation. Its pathetic really, that a country that hasn’t had an independent defence policy since, well, I can’t remember, the 50s? wishes to be seen as relevant geopolitically when it simply doesn’t have the tools or the skills. It’s constant whittling away of its military assets, troops and funding but adherence to increasing its nuclear arsenal seems a little at odds with itself.
    The UK has been in a state of cultural crisis for nigh on 40 years, it seems a little churlish and late in the day to blame it on the Russians! Nobody has done more to undermine society than the Torys, that in itself has been a 40 year Thatcherite pogrom of great success, topped off by 10 years of insane ideological austerity which failed on every level, other than fracturing society beyond its limits and leading to the current constant state of distress and dissatisfaction in the UK. One might even say that it has done more to fuel an admiration for people like Putin (a strong leader who knows how to patiently deal with oafs) which seems to quietly grow amongst many Brits.
    Where Paul is on the money is that yet again, the British, much like the US, still patently refuse to look at themselves and see where THEY are to blame for the current state of affairs. Without a willingness to do so nothing will change and Eurasian integration will go on its merry way as the West simply fades away into the background of irrelevance in many spheres.

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    1. but adherence to increasing its nuclear arsenal seems a little at odds with itself.

      This is interesting to nitwits like me. I vaguely seem to recall that what puzzled me in Trump’s much applauded campaign Foreign Policy Speech, at least in my then dominant internet community didn’t consider that of any importance.

      Secondly, we have to rebuild our military and our economy. The Russians and Chinese have rapidly expanded their military capability, but look at what’s happened to us. Our nuclear weapons arsenal, our ultimate deterrent, has been allowed to atrophy and is desperately in need of modernization and renewal. And it has to happen immediately. Our active duty armed forces have shrunk from 2 million in 1991 to about 1.3 million today. The Navy has shrunk from over 500 ships to 272 ships during this same period of time. The Air Force is about one-third smaller than 1991. Pilots flying B-52s in combat missions today. These planes are older than virtually everybody in this room.

      These matters have to be taken care of, have to renewed, I was told. Fair enough.

      Increasing doesn’t sound like that? Any links/information concerning Britain?

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      1. Before the salary arrives in your account, apparently there are a lot of people that take care your narrative fits their needs. 😉

        That’s where think thanks and academia part ways. Maybe?

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      2. moon, I hope you are using the pronoun “your” in the generic sense, as in “one’s” — ?

        Actually, that may be one of the crossings where we have to part ways. Maybe?

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  8. Meanwhile, back on the topic of whether or not Ukraine will launch a full-scale attack on Donetsk, 2008-style: It’s looking more and more every day, like that will actually happen, and fairly soon. It’s sort of a boiling-frog situation, where more and more RPG’s are being launched every day, aimed at the outskirts of Donetsk, so things really heating up. According to this piece, lots of bombardments today (Friday), right after a visit to the front lines of Zelensky himself. He was there to bolster and egg on the troops.
    Another sign and portent:
    2 U.S. warships plan to sail into the Black Sea, and say they will remain there until May 4.
    Perhaps not coincidentally, Orthodox Easter arrives this year on Sunday, May 2. Some people are betting that the top-secret Ukrainian attack is actually scheduled for Easter Day. The reason would be obvious, if one just thinks about it.

    Of course, this is all just speculation, but if anybody wants to place a bet…

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    1. Ze has been testing the resolve of Russai and the West as well as Ukie public opinion.

      Upon seeing the result, he and his circle might very well hold back.

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  9. I have met quite a few guys from such think-tanks. The impression is that they are, more often that not, unscrupulous traders, not thinkers.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. One wonders why ? What can the UK possibly hope to gain from this unremitting hostility not only to Russia, and now to China also ? It can’t have any great-power aspirations, hasn’t shown any since Suez at the latest; and doesn’t have even fraction of the the military power needed to resume them. After Brexit, one would have expected the UK to have cultivated relations with huge potential trading parters like these, rather than to have antagonized them. It seems like some form of national madness: having forgotten its goal, the UK has redoubled its effort.

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    1. I suspect they’re doing this to please the USA.
      Even before joining the EU, the UK, as a member of the Anglo-Saxon ‘Five Eyes’ like the USA, had certain Russophobic policies in the works, such as Churchill’s ‘Operation Unthinkable’ post-WWII, and during WWII its support for Hitler in his attacks on Russia. Rumor also has it that Britain started WWI to prevent Germany and Russia from forming the alliance that Otto von Bismarck wanted.
      De Gaulle was known to oppose Britain’s entry into the EU on the grounds that Britain would serve as a Trojan horse for the USA to interfere in European affairs.

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      1. That theory makes the most sense. Namely, that England, like so many other countries, is acting not in its own sovereign interests, but simply as a cats-paw for the U.S. Even against its own national interests.

        Having just typed that, I realize I don’t know exactly what “cats-paw” means, but something similar to Trojan Horse, I reckon.

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      2. Rumor also has it that Britain started WWI to prevent Germany and Russia from forming the alliance that Otto von Bismarck wanted.

        Interesting comment. How do those rumors draw a line from Bismarck’s resignation in March 1890 to WWI?

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      3. “Rumor also has it that Britain started WWI to prevent Germany and Russia from forming the alliance that Otto von Bismarck wanted.”

        AFAIR it was the Alliance, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire that declared war Serbia, whereupon Germany declared war against France, invaded Belgium, and Britain THEN declared war on Germany.

        In the final analysis it was the desire by all participants to settle the power problem in Europe and the colonies that made all participants quite eager to settle their claims for superiority in Europe and abroad

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  11. cat’s paw

    a person who is used by another to carry out an unpleasant or dangerous task.

    “he was merely a cat’s paw of older and cleverer men”

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    1. Aha! I googled it, it’s from the Fontaine fable, The Monkey and the Cat: n La Fontaine’s telling, Bertrand the monkey persuades Raton the cat to pull chestnuts from the embers amongst which they are roasting, promising him a share. As the cat scoops them from the fire one by one, burning his paw in the process, the monkey gobbles them up. They are disturbed by a maid entering and the cat gets nothing for its pains.
      And hence is the source of 2 idioms in various languages, including French and English: (1) to be somebody’s cat’s paw; and (2) to pull somebody’s chestnuts out of the fire!

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