British ‘Weakness’ Emboldened Moscow – Chatham House Expert
2 October, 2018

As the twists and turns in the Skripal case keep on coming, it was Russia’s weak image of Britain that led to the former intelligence officer’s poisoning on U.K. soil, according to Chatham House Associate Fellow James Sherr.

“Several British governments, over many years, had inadvertently been projecting an image of weakness to Russia,” he said, adding that a number of Russians have died in mysterious circumstances in the U.K. without any response from the British government. 

“The Russian conclusion, and the General Staff conclusion  and hence the GRU (intelligence service) conclusion  was: Britain is taking itself out of the great power game. So there was every expectation that this could be done successfully, without any serious response,” Sherr told Hromadske at this year’s Riga Conference in Latvia.

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But it seems as though that’s where the U.K’s alleged weakness ends. Sherr said that Russia was “surprised” and “unbalanced” by the efficiency with which the U.K. has reacted to the Skripal attack.

“They were surprised by a lot of demonstrations of just how professional our police work was, how professional our counterintelligence work was, the fact that we saved the lives of these people,” Sherr told Hromadske, “Russia doesn't work like this.”

Sherr said that this is what prompted Russia’s aggressive, and at times “ridiculous,” disinformation campaign targeting the case, highlighted by the two suspects’ unconvincing appearance on Russian state television, where they claimed to have been in Salisbury as tourists and not as assassins.

Photo credit: Oleksandr Nazarov/HROMADSKE

“They started overloading [their channels of disinformation] and made themselves appear completely ridiculous. And the climax of this was this interview with Simonyan [on state television Russia Today.]”

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What’s more, the Skripal case has also had an important hand in amplifying the perception of Russia as an “serious, long-term adversary, whose fundamental interests are in conflict with many of our fundamental interests,” according to Sherr.

“There has been a real movement now in thinking. And the partnership paradigm, the troubled partnership paradigm about Russia now is a minority view, across the NATO alliance, and even across the European Union,” Sherr added.