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  March 16, 2018

Corbyn Smeared as 'Russian Stooge' for Requesting Evidence on Poisoned Spy

While harshly condemning the Salisbury nerve agent attack, the Labour Party's leftist leader requested evidence that the Russian government carried it out. A deluge of smears followed.
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BEN NORTON: The leftist leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party is under attack, simply because he calmly called for an investigation in line with international law.

On March 4, a former Russian spy who had been a double agent for the British government was found unconscious in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia had reportedly been poisoned, and were hospitalized in critical condition.

A week later, the United Kingdom's Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May claimed the Russian-made nerve agent Novichok had been used in the attack. She said the Russian government was likely behind the attack, although she also raised the possibility that Russia had lost control of the nerve agent and it was used by another actor.

While the British government's assessment initially was not certain, all nuance was immediately thrown out of the window. The Kremlin was accused of an attempted assassination. Prime Minister May expelled 23 Russian diplomats. The United States, France, and Germany joined in blaming Russia, and called for a punitive response.

While the right-wing Blairite faction of the Labour Party immediately sided with the Tory government, the opposition's leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn called for careful research, and warned against overreaction.

Corbyn condemned the attack in harsh terms, but stressed that any response must be "based on clear evidence."

JEREMY CORBYN: The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence. Nerve agents are abominable if used in any war. It is utterly reckless to use them in a civilian environment.

Our response as a country must be guided by the rule of law, support for international agreements and respect for human rights.

Our response must be decisive, proportionate and based on clear evidence.​

BEN NORTON: When Corbyn presented a series of simple questions, merely asking what steps the government has taken to collect evidence for its claims, he was loudly booed by members of the House of Commons.

JEREMY CORBYN: If the government believe that it is still a possibility that Russia negligently lost control of a military-grade nerve agent, what action is being taken through the OPCW with our allies? I welcome the fact that the police are working with the OPCW.

Has the prime minister taken the necessary steps under the chemical weapons convention to make a formal request for evidence from the Russian government under Article IX(2)?

How has she responded to the Russian government's request for a sample of the agent used in the Salisbury attack to run their own tests? Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent, and has that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or the identity of its perpetrators?

BEN NORTON: Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly been accused of threatening and even killing political opponents, former spies, and journalists. And Jeremy Corbyn never ruled out the possibility that the Kremlin is behind the poison attack, which could certainly be the case.

But simply because he asked for evidence before jumping to conclusions that could have dangerous global repercussions, Corbyn has been pilloried by the British government, his political rivals, and the corporate media.

Simply for asking for calm and for evidence, Corbyn was repeatedly smeared as a "Putin puppet" and a "Kremlin stooge."

Corbyn's neoliberal opponents inside Labour used the controversy to try to further undermine his leadership, which he earned overwhelmingly from the rank-and-file in a landslide election.

Few people came to Corbyn’s defense. Nevertheless, Wales' first minister Carwyn Jones broke through the echo chamber, and told the BBC that the attacks on Corbyn have been unfair.

CARWYN JONES: I think Jeremy Corbyn, in fairness, has been unfairly maligned. He condemned what happened very strongly, I thought. You heard him say yesterday, I think the response from the prime minister is proportionate and robust and it has my support.

BEN NORTON: Corbyn outlined his thoughts in greater detail a nuanced op-ed published in The Guardian on March 15.

Corbyn forcefully denounced the attack as "barbaric and beyond reckless."

And the leftist opposition leader made it clear, "Labour is of course no supporter of the Putin regime, its conservative authoritarianism, abuse of human rights or political and economic corruption."

"However," Corbyn added, "that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a 'new cold war' of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent."

The leftist opposition leader, who had been a key figure in the movement against the invasion of Iraq, reminded readers of the lies that were spun in the lead-up to that war.

Given the possibility that organized crime networks could have been involved in the attack, Corbyn also noted that the British government's "capacity to deal with outrages from Russia is compromised by the tidal wave of ill-gotten cash that Russian oligarchs ... have laundered through London" since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This echoed similar remarks he made earlier in the House of Commons.

JEREMY CORBYN: We must do more to address the dangers posed by the state's relationship with unofficial mafia-like groups and corrupt oligarchs. We must also expose the flows of ill-gotten cash between the Russian state and billionaires who become stupendously rich by looting their country and subsequently use London to protect their wealth.

BEN NORTON: The Labour leader also reminded critics of what happened in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Despite Corbyn's qualified language and cautious positions, he faced a bitter attack from hawkish rivals, who portray careful nuance as apologism for the Kremlin.

In today’s extreme right-wing, nationalistic political climate, even asking basic questions before taking drastic action is frowned upon.


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