Every once in a while, a town that is local to me will hit the national news. One of the most exciting events was back in the late 90s when a bunch of animal activists burst into a fur farm in Ringwood, releasing thousands of mink. Yay for the freed mink! Not such great news for the native wildlife that then came into contact with the mink. In 2011, Mrs P and I returned from the land of the narco, where grisly beheadings were the norm. Only for someone to behead a man across the road from our workplace. And just recently, a well off gentleman is an exclusive neighbourhood round the corner from mother was shot dead in a bungled burglary. The perps lived in a far less exclusive neighbourhood a few miles from our address. They now reside in secure accomodation, well away from all of us.
This week, another local-ish town hit the news headlines. Not just local headlines. Not just national. Salisbury made international headlines. It’s a lovely little town, with a fabulous cathedral and some delightful stately homes nearby. Mrs P is particularly a fan, because this is where her favourite Thai restaurant is located. Salisbury is home to plenty of political intrigue of the past, including the questions that have been asked of a now deceased resident – Ted Heath, former PM. It’s the home of the most pressing piece of current political intrigue. The chemical attack on a (former?) Russian spy. And the general population around him.
The facts aren’t in. We shouldn’t, in theory, jump to any conclusions. But heck, I’m going to any way. Putin and the cabal that surrounds him will, of course, issue plenty of denials. Some indignant, others sarcastic and with the occasional threat thrown in for good measure. He’ll give his hard luck story about (ficticious) broken promises about NATO expansion. He’ll promote conspiracy theories of persecution. Meanwhile, Tblisi still smoulders. Russian athletes are routinely doped. Families of passengers shot out of the sky still have no answers. Crimea remains annexed. Mysterious men in green still roam eastern Ukraine. Ceaseless conflict in Syria. Political interventions in the west continue. I’m going to stick my neck on the line and go so far as to suggest the Salisbury attack is simply the latest in a line of Kremlin sponsored assassinations. Both at home and on foreign soil.
Putin has a few cards up his sleeve to ‘keep the west in check’. European consumption of Russian gas is a big one. That works both ways, to a degree, when cash from the West flows into his coffers. He has a nuclear arsenal at his disposal. And he may well have a very special card up his sleeve. Some might even refer to it as his Trump card. He also instils a certain degree of fear in the West. His regime is scarcely distinguishable from an organised crime gang. And the West has seen where this can lead, with this sort of nationalist mob, with white supremacist policies, disregard for international law, persistent and blatant lies, habitual incursions over borders and claims of securing the ‘liberty’ of those who speak the same language living in other countries. Whilst Trump may well have fascist tendancies, there are checks and balances that act as a brake. To a degree. Putin has no such restraints.
But the point of my post is this. The ‘incident’ in Salisbury – if committed by Russian forces at the behest of the Kremlin – was not simply a targetted attack on an individual. Thus it was not a straightforward assassination. It was an attack, using chemical weapons, on a populated area in the UK, that left nearly two dozen people in need of medical treatment. That is, by most definitions, an act of war. Are we at war and where do we go from here? Is appeasement your policy of choice? Or confrontation? What concessions are you prepared to offer if the former? What action do you take if the latter? These are not interesting times. They are dangerous times.