The Brazen Bear & the UK Poisonings


I’m not much of a scientist and have only two accomplishments in the lab to my name. Firstly, I managed to survive the enforced study of Chemistry, Physics and Biology from the ages of 11 to 16 without blowing anything (or anyone) up. The other was when, for reasons still beyond my understanding, I set a stack of paper towels on fire. Why and how I did this I am not sure – I did not really know why I did it back then, so it is not a fault of memory. My achievement here was that the teacher didn’t seem to think I was responsible, and subsequently my social status amongst my fellow-science peers was elevated. And no, I never understood how high-school worked either.

So, as the world mourns the death of the great Stephen Hawking yesterday, I can only really claim to have admired the man at a distance for his undoubted genius and his unbreakable will in coping with ALS. I have never read one of his books, even; A Brief History of Time seemed a damned contradictory title to me. How can time itself have a history? And how can history be brief? At that point I thought if I can’t even get past the cover, this probably wasn’t one for me, and promptly went back to re-reading my books about World War 2, Napoleon, and almost every other era in which people have felt the need to slaughter each other. Damn fine.

But one thing that he said did resonate with me. Hawking was quoted as saying that space colonization was of the utmost importance since humanity was bound to destroy itself over the next two centuries. Well, if what is going on in the world today was enough to concern the Great Mind, then book Ogden a one-way ticket to space and I’ll take my chances with the Martians, thank’ee.

I think that the West might just now be waking up to the real danger posed by Russia. With one Russian defector dead and another sure to follow, both in England and in as many weeks, the alarm bells are now ringing, not least because the first was infected with a deadly nerve agent that has gone on to harm bystander Britons. Furthermore, President Putin has recently exhibited Russia’s new nuclear weapons which he claims can defeat all Western countermeasures. Well, clearly no one invests in something like that just to scare burglars.

But what I think is truly alarming is that the West still doesn’t understand that Russia simply doesn’t care. I was talking to one man from England whom I hadn’t seen for years and he – like many others – was saying Moscow was being prematurely blamed. “Why would they risk the international condemnation?” he scoffed. “There’s no logic to it.” At this point I would have lifted him and shaken him by the collar had our correspondence not been online; has Russia not shown time and time again they could not care less about international condemnation? The use of a Russian-designed and produced nerve agent on Sergei Skripal can hardly even be plausibly denied – they are simply not trying.

Admittedly, the opinion the man I spoke to won’t reflect the views of politicians or professional diplomats…but they are still closer than one might think at first glance. I’ve no doubt that the Western-imposed sanctions were put in place with the view to decrease the United Russia party’s popularity – after all, it would have worked anywhere else. The Russians, however, just seem to further support their leader when they feel he is under attack from outsiders. Perhaps Western politicians, such as Russian super fan Donald Trump, believe that because they wear similar suits and belong to a culture which, while unfamiliar, is not entirely alien, their national mentality is not so far removed. Personally, I would go so far as to say that their mindset is every bit as different as an extremist Muslim looking to blow himself up.

So given that economic sanctions against Moscow haven’t worked at all, I don’t imagine Putin will be quaking in his boots over Theresa May’s expulsion of a few dozen diplomats who could be using their diplomatic immunity for espionage purposes. I highly doubt any Russian diplomat legally registered in Britain would be responsible for attacking a defector; their really dangerous agents will never be found or seen (just Google ‘Directorate S’ if you’re not worried enough already).

Of course, although Russia might well respect a more robust response, this naturally carries the risk of escalation, and between them, Putin and Trump might be mad enough to push a red button. But I hope the West finds its courage soon, for Moscow is only becoming more brazen, and their current anti-Putin tactics could not be working any worse.

Tim Ogden

15 March 2018 18:34