By Alex Beard
Fittingly, with a Presidental 'Election' taking place today that resulted in Vladimir Putin gaining another term in office, Russia has dominated the headlines this week. Here's, as always, the week's political news, chewed up and spat out.
The Spy Saga
All international attention has focused on the horrific case of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, as well as a British police officer, who remain in hospital having been poisoned by a nerve agent identified as 'Novichok', a substanced produced only in Russia. If the highly likely suspicions that the Russian state was responsible for the attack are true, this would represent a major breach of diplomatic conventions, show a complete disregard for British sovereignty and be symptomatic of the Federation's questionable human rights record, especially after another former spy living in the UK was found to have been strangled to death.
Britain's traditional allies have come out in support and solidarity - in addition receiving to France and Germany's backing, the UK was defended by US Ambassador of the UN Nikki Hayley, who delivered a damning statement on Russia's culpability. This collective suspicion is something all countries are united by, Theresa May and Boris Johnson both having taken a firm stance against the Kremlin, leading 23 Russian diplomats to be expelled from London, an act mirrored by Russia in a 'tit-for-tat' response that included closing the British Council - an institution promoting British culture - in Moscow.
Despite initial hesitation from Jeremy Corbyn to openly identify Russia as reponsible for the attack, Shadow Cabinet members such as Keir Starmer have condemned the state, whilst criticising the Conservative Party's history of taking money from Russian oligarchs and its failure to crack down on money laundering in London originating from the country; this has, however, been seen by some as party political point-scoring at a time when solidarity is incredibly important.
Predictably, Russia vehemently denies the attack - an event which could be seen to strengthen Putin in the run up to the election - and the Kremlin's Ambassador to the EU appeared on the Andrew Marr Show this morning to deny any Russian involvement, claim that Russia possessed no chemical weapons and suggest that the incident could have been orchestrated by the UK itself.
What the expulsion of diplomats and hard stances from both sides will do to relations between Russia and the West remains to be seen, but the situation has escalated very quickly.
There's not much that needs to be said about this. Since Boris Yeltsin stepped down in 2000, Vladimir Putin has run Russia in one form or another - first as President, then as Prime Minister in order to circumvent the term limit defined by the constitution, then as President again. With his most popular opponent on 7% of the vote, Putin has, almost inevitably, been re-elected.
It is important, however, to highlight the blatant attacks on democracy that have made Putin's power possible. By banning or obstructing oppostiton parties and opponents, such as viable contender and former chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov in 2008, and being able to flood media outlets, that are barred from broadcasting other candidates, with propaganda, the Kremlin's occupier has reserved the position for himself for as long as he likes it.
We'll Xi each other a lot more
Unable to resist another dreadful pun, I felt that with the mention of Russia's autocracy above, it was only right to mention the Chinese People's Congress' decision to remove term limits for leaders and allow incumbent Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely. The parallels are obvious - both from huge countries with malformed democratic systems that are easy to manipulate who had been humiliated in the past and now had leaders who, it seems, have been only of benefit to their economies. It goes without saying that both have crippling inequality, appalling human rights records with draconian views on LGBTQ+ rights and little soft power.
Six months after the Federal Elections in September 2017, a government in Germany has finally been formed and Angela Merkel re-elected as German Chancellor. The political stalwart, who is entering her fourth term, is seen as a beacon of stability in a wobbly Europe and has already, this week, met with Emmanuel Macron, who hopes to work with her to pursue his agenda of European reform - which is, I promise you, far more exciting than it sounds. The junior partner, the SPD, who entered into the coalition somewhat begrudgingly, have appointed one of their MPs as Finance Minister - the former Mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz - who, along with Justice turned Foreign Minister Heiko Maas - should give the party more leverage in what was before a rather unbalanced alliance. All parties involved (the CDU, their Bavarian sister party the CSU and the SPD) want to reinvent themselves in the next four years, in order to hold the political centre and ward off populist forces such as the AfD.
And while we're at it....
The political sieve that is Donald Trump's cabinet has lost perhaps its most high profile member yet; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As with all the people Trump has fired, there was little explanation of his dismissal and even less to identify why he was actually there in the first place. More to come on this, perhaps...
The tragedy of the lives lost in the Syrian Civil War continues, with tens of thousands of people displaced from their homes in Eastern Ghouta, where fighting between government forces and rebels has left many injured and without food, and Afrin. This is something I hope to be able to cover in more detail another time.