The actions of the British government (that is the “deep state” – the forces which don’t change with the merry-go round of elections) has from the start had a very clear strategy in relation to the Skripal case. To understand this strategy one has to understand the political and economic backdrop against which it takes place.
Since Putin came to power (as an elected President) Russia has been evolving a clear development strategy – on both the domestic and international fronts. Domestically – under Putin – the country has been pursuing a course of both social and economic development. For example; social services have been modernised, often in line with the highest of Western standards, corruption at the higher levels has been tackled, there are projects to develop economic infrastructure such as roads and rail, large nationalised industries have been partially privatised, foreign investment capital has been sought and welcomed. Much of this is absolutely in line with what Western capitalists want. True; there are some limits. For example, foreign investment in certain sensitive sectors is subject to special controls. And, while, some of the major state energy companies have been partially sold (Rosneft, Gazprom) the government has retained a controlling stake. The policy is clear and consistent: the country is being modernised (including in the sense of joining the international capitalist system) but it is being done in a way which is of benefit to Russia. It is not the unconditional surrender to international finance of the Yeltsin years. It is reasonable to call this state capitalism.
For Western finance capital all this is welcome but not enough. Western finance capital has a clear expectation of governments. They exist to make conditions for business better; they should act as the servants of finance capital. This is how governments in the West, for example the British government, understand their role. The Russian government does not see its role in the sense.
On the international front Russia again has a clear strategy. The policy is to take part in international institutions – the UN, the WTO, the OPCW and so on. They have even accepted the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights via their now (suspended) membership of the Council of Europe. (Though more recently and following what they would see as abuse of this process in e.g. the Yukos case, they have enacted legislation to allow them to reject European Court of Human RIghts judgements which go against their national interest). Russia aims to pursue its national interests within the framework of international law. They do not intend to follow the West in its abuse of international law. The Russian acceptance of the Western campaign against Libya in 2011 – when the West far exceeded its UN Security mandate and plunged Libya into total chaos – is probably the last time that Russia will go along with the West’s regime change operations. In Syria they quite correctly state that they and not the West are acting in accordance with International Law.
This, naturally, is a disappointment for the Western imperialists who would like to see Russia either join in with or at least submissively permit all their regime change operations all over the world. (Russia permitted the NATO bombing of Bosnia in the mid 1990s while Yeltsin was President).
This is the context in which the British government’s response to Skripal should be understood. Both pillars of Russia’s political strategy are being attacked. On the international front it is essential to undermine Russia’s claim to be adhering to international law. Russia must be painted as a pariah state. Then, once again, the Western narrative that all its regime change operations are somehow legitimate humanitarian interventions can be reinstated without challenge. This is why the focus is so much on the chemical weapons aspect of the Skripal case. This is why the British government has dragged in the OPCW. The clear aim is to undermine Russia’s standing on the international stage. The second benefit of the Skripal case for the British government and the West is that it has provided the opportunity to enact more economic sanctions against Russia. Economic sanctions against Russia are a specific attack on the economic development policy of Russia, which we have outlined above. The message is clear and the Russians are intended to read it – you can only take part in international capitalism and benefit from trade, investment and technology transfer if you submit politically to our rules. (Of course no one says that this is the message because Western publics would immediately realise that it is a cruel and unreasonable policy – this is why it is presented to Western publics in terms of a ‘punishment’ for ‘wrongdoing’).
The West is challenged by the progressive but nationalist policy of the Russian government. The West is actively trying to undermine this policy – by way of ‘regime change’ in Russia or otherwise. It is doing this by continually painting Russia as an international pariah and by unprovoked economic warfare. The aggressor is the West. As always. The Skripal case is being exploited by the current British government to further this policy of the West and to try to secure a leading role for Britain in the West.