Magazine article The World Today

The World in Brief

Magazine article The World Today

The World in Brief

Article excerpt

The reaction to the poisoning in Salisbury, Wiltshire, of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia has been widely compared with the Cold War days.

The tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats do seem to belong to a bygone era, but in terms of public discourse, the difference between then and now is huge, and unsettling.

In the Cold War, officials weighed their words and statements were parsed to read between the lines. Today we have a Twitter storm of false trails, insinuations and low comedy designed to muddy the waters.

In 1985, I was expelled from the Soviet Union, officially because of 'activities incompatible with my status' that is, espionage. In reality it was because some Soviet agents ordered home from London by Margaret Thatcher were working under journalistic cover. I was working with Reuters and deemed to be an equivalent.

I went to the Soviet foreign ministry and an official had the good grace to tell me that they had no accusations against me; they needed me to fill up the list. So at that time, behind the propaganda there was a foundation of truth. That seems to have gone.

The Foreign Office has listed all the bizarre accusations emanating from the Kremlin and state media: the murder plot was not the work of Russia but Britain, Ukraine or the United States; the nerve agent came from the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Sweden; it was not attempted murder but a suicide bid or an accidental overdose.

The Russian embassy in London has merrily tweeted a picture of Hercule Poirot, its preferred detective to take over the investigation. …

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