European Union: Tepid support for U.K. against Russia
Whose side is the European Union on? asked James Tapsfield in the Daily Mail (U.K.). Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are fighting for their lives in the hospital after being sickened by the Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok two weeks ago; police officer Nick Bailey, who tended to the two after they were found unconscious on a park bench in the city of Salisbury, is in serious condition. The U.K. government says the chemical attack was almost certainly ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and it has kicked out 23 Russian diplomats. Moscow retaliated by booting 23 British diplomats from Russia. Yet EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have refused to explicitly blame Russia for this horrific crime, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker not only congratulated Putin on his rigged re-election this week but said the EU seeks “positive relations” with Moscow. Lawmakers with the U.K.’s ruling Conservative Party rightly called the statement “shameful” and “nauseating.”
But there’s no proof that the Kremlin was behind the attack, said Lorenz Hemicker in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany). Yes, Novichok was Soviet-made, but its chemical structure was published in the West in 2008. As Russian officials have pointed out, the U.S. might have stockpiles of the agent, and “other actors,” perhaps criminals, could have gained possession of the weapon. Even the Kremlin’s purported motive is implausible: Why would Putin want to “eliminate an opponent unmasked long ago”—Skripal was arrested in Russia as a double agent in 2004 and settled in the U.K. following a 2010 spy swap—and why “on the very eve of his re-election” as Russian president?
The EU wasn’t nearly so willing to give Syria the benefit of the doubt, said Markus Becker in Der Spiegel (Germany). It has slapped sanctions on the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons, based on similarly circumstantial evidence. Russia, though, gets a pass, because it is “Europe’s most important source of oil and natural gas.” Why, Europeans wonder, should they antagonize Russia for Britain, when Britain has chosen to leave the EU? Officially, of course, EU leaders say Brexit plays no role in their calculations, “but behind closed doors” they admit it weighs heavily.
There’s another explanation for Europeans’ reluctance to act: They realize that the British have lost their minds, said Mikhail Ozerov in Komsomolskaya Pravda (Russia). Britons now view all Russians as potential murderers, and pundits there are even warning that English soccer players and fans who travel to Moscow for this summer’s World Cup could be killed. In fact, the people truly at risk of harm are ordinary Russians working in Britain—diplomats, journalists, even businessmen—who are getting death threats from “mentally unstable” Brits. As a measure of how paranoid the atmosphere is, look at the treatment of opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn: He’s been deemed practically a traitor for conceding there’s no proof of Kremlin involvement in the poisoning. London is now “the world capital in Russophobia.” ■