Article - Salisbury poisonings

Salisbury and Amesbury are not, of course, in Dorset, let alone West Dorset. But they are near enough to us to make the ghastly Novichok poisonings seem pretty close to home.

It was therefore with even more interest than would otherwise have been the case that I heard the Prime Minister’s statement to the Commons about the latest stage of the enquiry.

As she spoke, it became clear that the work of our detectives and security agencies has been outstanding. To have identified the perpetrators with a level of evidence sufficient for the Director of Public Prosecutions to authorise charges, and then also to have identified the individuals in question as members of Russia’s military intelligence apparatus is impressive, to say the least.

This, together with the exceptional work of the NHS in keeping most of the victims alive, despite all expectations to the contrary, should serve to remind us that the UK has world-class competencies of which we can and should be proud.

But, as I listened to the statement and to the ensuing discussion in Parliament, it also came home to me just how vexed and dangerous the relationship with the present regime in the Kremlin has become.

True, we are mercifully spared the massive ideological rift that caused the Cold War and frightened my generation in our youth with the realistic prospect of mutually assured destruction.

But we now face a regime that, operating somewhat tenuously on the basis of an economy much smaller than that of the UK, is nevertheless maintaining a vast nuclear arsenal, huge armed forces and a policy founded on total disregard for international law.

Achieving - through skilful diplomacy- a balanced and proportionate, but at the same time robust international response is no mean feat. The containment of the Kremlin will be one of the great challenges of the coming decade.

What makes this all the more difficult is that it is all happening in the context of a return to the geopolitics that applied for several thousand years before the industrial revolution gave us the historically unusual period of 1750 to 2000, in which the West dominated the world.

The historical norm, to which we are now returning, is one in which the great powers of the East — China and India— outweigh the west. And in this eastern power-politics, Russia is a hinge.

Both China and India will do a great deal to avoid conflict with Russia, for very good reasons, since Russia is a powerful and aggressive force right on their borders. Long history shows them that peaceful coexistence in the east depends on maximal convergence and minimal friction with such a neighbour.

The result is that Chinese and Indian leaders meet frequently with their Russian counterparts, and cooperate with the Russian leadership in international fora such as the UN to the greatest possible extent.

This, in turn, intensifies the challenge faced by British prime ministers and US presidents in trying to mobilise an effective international coalition to contain the Kremlin.

And then there is the uncertainty surrounding the attitude to Russia of the Trump administration in the US — which has solidly supported us during the lamentable Novichok episode but has wavered in its general approach to the Kremlin.

As if Mrs May didn’t have enough on her plate already!