In Britain the law is above all (except the urge to mollycoddle Putin)

Foreign agents murdered a British subject on British soil in 2006. The murder weapon wasn’t a gun, a garrotte or a knife. It wasn’t even any traditional poison.

Alexander Litvinenko, the KGB defector naturalised in the UK, was murdered with a radioactive substance called polonium-200.

That, and the widely assumed fact that Litvinenko was working for MI6 at the time, added some piquancy to the crime. The case became big news, for the usual five minutes.

The victim’s widow was insisting that a public inquiry be held: the murder had been clearly committed by two FSB spies who had spiked Litivinenko’s tea with the esoteric isotope.

The man who probably did the actual spiking, Andrei Lugovoi, fled back to Russia. When the British police tried to summon him for questioning, Putin’s government flatly turned down the polite request for extradition.

Just to be on the safe side, Lugovoi was hastily elected to the Duma, thereby gaining parliamentary immunity. This confounded the slanderous vipers who maintain that the Russian parliament is good for nothing. It’s actually extremely good for the criminal underworld, whose many stars use it in lieu of forged identity papers and false moustaches.

After the half-hearted attempt to get Lugovoi back, the case was passed on to a coroner. Last year Home Secretary Theresa May agreed that a public inquiry would be par for the course in such a case, but she ruled it out for fear of hurting ‘international relations’ and upsetting ‘our foreign partners’.

Presumably, she wasn’t referring to Brazil or Hong Kong. Contextually it was clear that the hypersensitive ‘foreign partner’ Mrs May had in mind was Putin.

God forbid we should offend the good colonel. Yes, no such action could have gone ahead without his approval, and ordering an act of nuclear terrorism in London was a bit naughty. But there was only one victim involved, not the thousands Putin could have killed just as easily by using more of the same chemical.

He didn’t though, which speaks highly for his restraint. So by all means do let’s go through the motions of some sort of investigation. An obscure coroner working sub rosa is the right man for such symbolic gestures, provided he doesn’t come up with the wrong, which is to say correct, answer: that the real murderer was Putin, the chap from whom Angie buys all that cheap gas.

That was pretty good going for a country that prides herself on her legal system. On past record, the pride is eminently justified. On that performance, there wasn’t anything to be proud of. Justice wasn’t served – it was mocked.

For, in a civilised country ruled by law,  justice and the legal procedures serving it must not be held hostage to political expedience. In a country like Britain, which gave the world the example of an uniquely just constitution, such an outrage is borderline criminal. When the political expedience is grossly misconstrued, it’s stupid as well.

Fascist rulers like Putin understand only one kind of language: that of force. Give them an inch, such as de facto immunity for the murder of Litvinenko and, appropriately emboldened, they’ll grab a mile – or rather quite  a few miles of sovereign foreign territory.

Two years after the murder, Putin attacked Georgia and gobbled up a chunk of her territory, receiving nothing but an avuncular rebuke from the West. Another five years, and he attacked the Ukraine, for which he was punished with derisory sanctions.

Then his lads went a missile too far. They shot down an airliner full of what is regarded in the West as premium human material. Culling all those Georgians, Chechens or even Ukrainians is one thing, killing Dutchmen, Brits and Americans is something else again.

The former is the equivalent of a dog biting a woman: unpleasant but hardly big news. That’s what dogs do, isn’t it? The latter, however, is more like a woman biting a dog: enough news value to keep the papers going for a week at least.

When the papers get going, the government has to react, especially with a national election just round the corner. Its natural reaction would be to accept the boldfaced lies concocted by Putin and his henchmen, spread by Russian media and eagerly picked up by the BBC.

Alas, in this instance there’s too much hard and incontrovertible evidence. Flight MH-17 was destroyed by a Russian SAM, smuggled into eastern Ukraine by Russia and apparently fired by Russian military personnel.

The crime wasn’t committed by the Ukrainian government, the CIA, Nato or the Martian Air Force. It was committed by Russia or, considering that she is a dictatorship whose parliament’s sole function is to act as a safe house for murderers, by Putin personally.

Hence HMG has to sigh mournfully and admit that the political situation has changed. Dave in particular, what with the national election just round the corner, feels he must act or, to be more exact, be seen to act.

This means that temporarily Putin is no longer a ‘foreign partner’ whose delicate sensibilities have to be spared to make sure Angie gets her gas at an affordable price. The KGB colonel has become a really naughty boy whose wrists must be slapped – but not so hard that he may slap back.

Thus the crime of yesteryear, or rather eight yesteryears, will now be subject to a public inquiry. I find it hard to decide which constitutes the greater travesty of justice: the refusal to hold such an inquiry eight years ago or the decision to do so now.

What’s easier is to propose the next punitive steps to be taken to bring Putin in line or, barring that, to make Dave look like a decisive leader.

For example, British banks should decline to accept deposits in excess of one billion pounds from any Russian citizen (unless he asks nicely).

Mayfair casinos must refuse admission to any customer who doesn’t know that ‘blackjack’ is the English for ochko (unless said customer owns a Premiership football club or a mainstream British newspaper).

Russians residing in London must be told in no uncertain terms that no bid for Buckingham Palace, St James Palace, Kensington Palace and Marlborough House would even be considered (unless it’s way in excess of the market value).

These would be sufficient to be going on with and, if they don’t do the trick, I have many other ideas in store.

Sooner or later Putin will cotton on that he can’t just attack sovereign European countries whenever the spirit moves him (unless he really wants to).





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