Putin’s man in Wellington delivers again

Richard Harman writes at Politik:

In a week which has already seen Winston Peters and New Zealand First go it alone on refugee policy, Peters surprised western diplomats in Wellington yesterday with a low key response to the naming of the Russian agents responsible for poisoning the former KGB agent.

His response did not accuse of the poisoning nor did he make any reference to joining international efforts to take reprisals against the country because of the poisoning.

It stood in marked contrast to a much stronger statement from Canberra.

And once again it raised questions as to why he so frequently appears soft on Russia. …

The issue is about a former KGB agent, Sergey,  and his daughter Yulia, Skripal who were poisoned with a toxic nerve agent, Novichok earlier this year.

More recently another woman died and her partner was hospitalised after contact with the nerve agent.

The incidents happened in the English town of Salisbury.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told the UK House of Commons on Wednesday that a forensic investigation had now produced sufficient evidence for the independent Director of Public Prosecutions to bring charges against two Russian nationals, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov for conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal and the attempted murder of him and his daughter.

“The Security and Intelligence Agencies have carried out their own investigations into the organisation behind this attack,” said May.

Based on this work, I can today tell the House that, based on a body of intelligence, the Government has concluded that the two individuals named by the police and CPS are officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU.

The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command.

So this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.

Despite that assertion by May, Peters made only a veiled reference to the role of the Russian state in being responsible for the attack in his statement on the matter issued yesterday morning.

 “Prime Minister May has indicated that the UK authorities have undertaken a careful and systematic inquiry,” he said.

“The UK announced that after a thorough criminal inquiry the independent Crown Prosecution Service has sufficient evidence to bring charges against two Russian nationals.

“We said from the outset of Prime Minister May announcing this investigation that we should wait for it to be completed to draw our conclusions, and we have.”

The rest of the statement reiterated New Zealand’s support for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons.

This contrasted with Australia’s response which came in a joint statement from Prime Minister, Scott Morrison and Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne.

They said that the (British) investigation had found that two Russian military intelligence officers were responsible for this attack.

“The investigation also concluded that the Russian leadership authorised the attack,” they said.

“The results of the UK Police investigation confirm Russia’s culpability for this heinous attack, in clear and direct violation of international law.

“Australia shares the UK’s anger and outrage at this dangerous and deliberate act by Russia, which also puts at risk the British public, police and other first responders.

“We are in lock step with the UK on the importance of holding Russia to account and reaffirm our support for calls on Russia to fully disclose the extent of its chemical weapons programme.

“The Australian Government is in close consultation with the UK Government and other partners. We are committed to acting with our allies and partners to deter further Russian violations of international security.”

POLITIK understands that the British noticed the difference between the Australian and New Zealand statements and were, to quote one source, “pissed” at Peters’ response.

This is part of a long standing pattern where Peters defends Russia, or minimises what they do.

France, Canada, the US and Germany have all strongly backed the UK conclusion. They did a joint statement saying:

Their statement said they had full confidence in Britain’s assessment that the two suspects were members of Russia’s GRU, and agreed that their operation was “almost certainly” approved at a senior level of the Russian government.

These are the words Winston can’t bring himself to say. That the poisoning was almost certainly approved by the Russian Government.

So Donald Trump takes a much harder line on Russia, than Winston does.

The question one has to ask is why?

And I’m not the only one wondering what the answer is. I’m sure the UK Government is, as well as many others.

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