Leader comment: Russia is creating a new Cold War

The West must stop appeasing Putin and impose real sanctions if Russia was behind attack on ex-spy.

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal, seen at a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in 2006, is in critical condition with an unexplained illness (Picture: AFP/Getty)

In his 2015 book, Winter is Coming, the Russian democracy campaigner and former chess world champion Garry Kasparov warned Vladimir Putin’s regime was “clearly the biggest and most dangerous threat facing the world today” and lambasted the West for failing to respond effectively to the annexation of Crimea. “Dictators only stop when they are stopped and appeasing Putin with Ukraine will only stoke his appetite for more conquests,” he added.

Given the similarities between the assassination of Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2007, using radioactive polonium, and unexplained illness of a Russian convicted of spying for the UK, his daughter and three members of the emergency services who went to help them, it would appear the UK’s reaction 11 years ago did not act as an effective deterrent.

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Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative MP who chairs of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, seemed fairly convinced, saying the incident “bears all the hallmarks of a Russian attack” and, if confirmed, would effectively mean Russian was waging “a soft war against the UK”.

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Or, in other words, the Cold War is returning and, as predicted, winter is coming. Russia has denied any involvement in the sudden collapse of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who are both in critical condition in hospital, as the substance thought to have caused their illness is investigated by experts at the Porton Down research base in Wiltshire. But then Russia has denied its troops were in Crimea when they clearly were, denied interfering in the US election when it clearly did and denied a passenger plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by pro-Moscow rebels using a Russian-made Buk missile, killing 298 people, despite convincing evidence. In short, Russia tells lies.

It is time for the West to stop believing or, perhaps more accurately, ignoring them.

Boris Johnson has said the UK will respond “robustly” if it is shown that the Russians were involved in the attempt on Mr Skripal’s life. But the Foreign Office later clarified that his remarks about UK representation at the football World Cup in Russia did not mean a boycott by the actual team, merely dignitaries. And it’s hard to imagine Mr Putin would have done anything more than bat an eyelid at the absence of one team.

It is time to send a much stronger message to Moscow, to make them feel the cold.