Relations between Britain and Russia have become so toxic now that anyone working with Russian news media is liable to be condemned as a stooge or traitor.
Senior Labour party member John McDonnell, the shadow finance minister, has conceded this week that fellow opposition politicians "may be banned from appearing on Russian news media" following the furore over allegations that Moscow carried out an assassination attempt in Britain last week.
Other reports have called on Britain's state media regulator, Ofcom, to cancel the broadcast license for Russian government-owned news outlet RT. That move is being touted as "appropriate retaliation" for Moscow's alleged involvement in the apparent poison attack on Sergei Skripal and his adult daughter.
The pair have been hospitalized following an incident in their adopted home town of Salisbury on March 4, in which it appears they were exposed to a lethal nerve agent. Disgraced Russian agent Sergei Skripal had been living in the southern England town for the past eight years following his exile to Britain in 2010 as part of a spy exchange.
After much fevered speculation in British media, the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May followed up this week by telling lawmakers in the House of Commons that "it was highly likely Russia was responsible."
The main incriminating factor cited is that the poisonous substance has been supposedly identified by British authorities as "novichok" -- a Soviet-made nerve agent, similar to VX and other weaponized organophosphate compounds.
Moscow has categorically denied any involvement in the apparent murder bid on the Skripals. Russia's Foreign Ministry has derided May's parliamentary address as "a circus show."
Let's back up a moment. May's claims of "highly likely" are eerily reminiscent of American and British "high confidence" about weapons of mass destruction allegedly in Iraq and Syria; or American and British "high confidence" about alleged Russian meddling in elections. It seems to be always a case of assertion-without-evidence which is either eventually disproven, as with WMDs in Iraq, or reliant on endless repetition by dutiful news media.
As for the British prime minister's supposed "smoking syringe" implicating Moscow because of an alleged Soviet military-grade nerve agent "novichok", that depends on the word of British military intelligence. How do we know novichok was actually used? It could have been any number of highly-toxic related organophosphate chemicals.
Even if novichok was deployed to injure the Skripals that is far from proof of any Russian connection. We can be sure Britain and other Western states have also developed their own stocks of novichok. How easy it would be to use the chemical as an apparent fingerprint framing the Kremlin, in the same way that the CIA and NSA can leave digital fingerprints framing enemies for seeming cyber-attacks.
The official British position implicating Russia over the Salisbury poisoning is tenuous, to say the least. But what is astounding is how the British are toxifying relations with Russia based on no objective evidence.
When Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn stood up in parliament this week to reply to Theresa May's speech, he was roundly vilified by Tory lawmakers and sections of the British media because he did not "condemn" Russia over the Salisbury incident.
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