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Russians Mock Their Government -- And Themselves -- Over Novichok Affair

The poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain has sparked a wave of comment and speculation on Russian social networks.
The poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain has sparked a wave of comment and speculation on Russian social networks.

Relations between Russia and the United Kingdom continue to deteriorate following the March 4 poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a deadly chemical substance -- called "novichok" -- developed by the Soviet military. As March 13 ended, Russia ignored a deadline set by the British government for an explanation of the incident.

As might be expected, commentators on Russian-language social media have found the situation irresistible. Here's a quick overview of some of the highlights.

"The English language has been enriched with yet another Russian word," wrote political scientist Grigory Golosov on Facebook. "The word 'novichok' has joined the company of 'sputnik' and 'pogrom.' Now we'll see if it sticks."

One popular meme purported to present a quotation from the Russian Foreign Ministry saying: "We need to bomb England very carefully to avoid accidentally hitting the homes of the children of our patriotic Duma deputies."

Moscow lawyer Nikolai Polozov linked the novichok affair with Russia's recent spate of doping scandals, a cocaine-smuggling case at the Russian Embassy in Argentina, and the 2006 poisoning of former Russian security officer Aleksandr Litvinenko with deadly polonium-210: "Polonium, meldonium, cocaine, novichok… It seems as if drug abuse might finally kill the patient."

Roman Dobrokhotov, editor of the website The Insider, had this take: "I can already predict that the conspiracy theorists will begin saying that, of course, this is a provocation against Russia; after all, the people in the Kremlin can't be such idiots that they would so stupidly sabotage themselves and right on the eve of the World Cup and that they would, precisely in England, after all the noise around the Litvinenko case, use a substance that can be traced to Russia, plus one that would cause such suffering. But no -- they are exactly idiots like that. And that is the scariest part.”

Journalist Roman Popkov's attention was drawn by pro-Kremlin Russian statements to the effect that there was no point for Moscow to kill Skripal because "he was yesterday's news and with such a tense international situation, they aren't such idiots." Popkov goes through a litany of similar statements about similar incidents from Litvinenko to the 2007 beating death of Other Russia activist Yury Chervochkin to the 2014 downing over Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and concludes: "Year after year the list of the Kremlin's crimes grows longer, but the rationalizations somehow never change."

Novelist Boris Yakunin (aka Grigory Chkhartishvili)
Novelist Boris Yakunin (aka Grigory Chkhartishvili)

Novelist Boris Yakunin (real name Grigory Chkhartishvili) wrote that Britain's most likely response to the Skripal poisoning would be to go after the Russian oligarchs that have settled their families in England. However, he argues, this might not upset the Kremlin much.

"The fact that many -- maybe the majority -- of progovernment businessmen have one foot in a foreign country, most often England, that they keep their families and their capital there so that at any moment, if they feel in danger, they can run off there, has long been a weakness and vulnerability of the [Putin] regime," he wrote on Facebook. "So the creation of a situation in which that entire company would be forced to pack their suitcases and household goods and come back to Kremlin-controlled territory is useful and helpful for Putin."

Screenwriter Oleg Kozyrev wrote: "We have to admit that the murder of the enemies of Russia's secret services abroad is more and more often taking the form not of an 'injection with an umbrella' but in the form of a terrorist act. This is happening with crowds of infected, not only among the relatives and friends of the 'enemy,' but among the police and passers-by and doctors, among anyone found themselves in the zone of infection. And, at the same time, a zone of infection itself is created -- sometimes by poison, sometimes by radiation, sometimes by both."

Muscovite Pytor Milovanov took a historical perspective on the latest events, looking back at the Crimean War: "The last 'hot war' between Russia and Britain was 160 years ago. Russia was isolated and no one supported it. Britain was in a coalition with France and the Ottoman Empire. During the war, the Russian emperor died and his successor began to carry out reforms."

Moscow politics professor Valery Solovei speculated about the impact of the Skripal scandal on Russia's hosting of the World Cup soccer championship this summer: "It looks like Russia has a chance of winning the world soccer championship. Because no other teams will show up. Or we will play the final against Serbia."

RT Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan
RT Editor in Chief Margarita Simonyan

RT Editor In Chief Margarita Simonyan continued the World Cup theme: "Nothing -- literally nothing -- upsets Moscow as much as the thought of the world championship without England. If the Brits really come through with this threat, then Putin will admit responsibility for the Salisbury affair and promise never to be so naughty again."

Yekaterinburg journalist Aleksei Shaburov noticed a pattern: "MH-17? Not us. U.S. elections? Not us. Poisoning in Britain? Not us. Doping? Not us. Mercenaries in Syria? Not us. Cocaine in the embassy? Not us. Donbas? Not us. Crimea? Not us (later it turned out that was us). The phrase 'Not us' is already worthy of being placed on the official state seal of Russia as our motto."

Translated by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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