On any subject other than Russia, unanimity between the United States and her European “allies” has been impossible to achieve since Donald Trump was sworn in as President.  The unsolved poisoning in the cathedral town of Salisbury, England, of a former Russian double agent—exchanged eight years ago in a spy-swap with the U.K.—and his daughter, though, has done the trick.

Western politicians are claiming that their relations with Moscow are even worse than during the Cold War, while journalists speculate on the possibility that a hot war might break out as a result of the attack, and reports have appeared in the British media that the U.K. might invoke Article V of the NATO pact that requires the signatories to defend one of their own against attack.  Nevertheless, there is a sound case to be made against the mass condemnation of Vladimir Putin and his agents in the Kremlin, one that has been stated calmly and convincingly by Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan with a reputation as a whistleblower, at Information Clearing House (“Russian to Judgment,” March 13, 2018).  “There are many possible suspects in this attack,” Murray concludes, and Putin is far from being the most plausible among them.

The British prime minister never claimed in her statement to Parliament, he notes, that the nerve agent Novichok (which belongs to a new class of such agents and in any case is not a single specific substance) employed by the would-be assassin, or assassins, is manufactured solely in Russia.  In fact, Murray points out, Israel has long produced very similar ones.  As for motivation, he asks rhetorically, why would Putin have waited eight years to kill Sergei Skripal, given especially that the Russians have never been known to have killed an exchanged spy?  More likely, he suggests, the motive would be some much more recent or current thing.  Murray finds it probable that Skripal contributed to the famous Trump dossier, produced by Christopher Steele and Orbis Intelligence, at the behest of the Clinton campaign after being recruited by a man named Pablo Miller, another MI6 agent in Russia who also belonged to Orbis and also had an address in Salisbury.  As a known double agent, Skripal might easily have been suspected of a possible inclination to become a triple one.  “[W]ith the stakes very high, having a very loose cannon as one of the dossier’s authors might be most inconvenient for Orbis and the Clinton camp.”

There is also Israel to consider.  “Russian action in Syria has undermined the Israeli position in Syria and Lebanon in a fundamental way, and Israel has every motive for damaging Russia’s international position by an attack aiming to leave the blame on Russia.”  Murray admits that, while these theories are only speculation, “they are no more a speculation, and no more a conspiracy theory, than the idea that Vladimir Putin secretly sent agents to Salisbury to attack Skripal with a secret nerve agent.  I can see absolutely no reason to believe that is a more valid speculation than the others at this point.”  He concludes: “We should be extremely skeptical of [the American and British security services’] current anti-Russian narrative.  There are many possible suspects in this attack.”  Among them, the British scholar and writer Ralph Berry suggests, are rogue operators who once were associated with Russian security agents, or even the so-called oligarchy that are the modern day equivalent of the Russian boyars and have an interest in challenging Putin’s authority and his power.

From 1917 to 1991, Western liberals’ patience with the Communist Party’s Soviet Union was as long as their sympathy for its domestic and international agenda was fundamental.  In those decades, they voiced few reservations about its totalitarian system.  But since totalitarianism in post-Communist Russia has been replaced by simple authoritarianism, no pretext seems to liberals too weak to justify blanket condemnation of the regime, and to threaten it with war.  As Stalinism was an assault on what Jefferson had called the decent opinion of mankind, so Putinism is an intolerable affront to the sensibilities of people who for more than two centuries have been making war on that opinion, and now on civilization itself.