Home >News >World >UK slip gives Russia an opening in spy poisoning war of spin
Despite the growing inconsistencies about the origins of the Russian spy poisoning, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has remained unabashed. Photo: Reuters
Despite the growing inconsistencies about the origins of the Russian spy poisoning, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson has remained unabashed. Photo: Reuters

UK slip gives Russia an opening in spy poisoning war of spin

The deletion of a tweet drawing a direct link between the findings of British scientists and Russian culpability for the spy poisoning allowed Russia to revel in London's apparent inconsistency

London: When the UK government released a video on social media on 19 March to counter what it said was “denial, distraction and disinformation" from Russia over the attempted murder of a former spy in Salisbury, it was an unashamed pitch for the high ground. Britain was staking its position as a bastion of integrity.

It was part of a media strategy run by the Foreign Office to counter extremist and malign content online. While the primary targets of such videos are Islamist militants who use social media to groom and recruit jihadis, officials reasoned the tactic would work against Russia too.

But the deletion of a tweet drawing a direct link between the findings of scientists at Britain’s Porton Down laboratory and Russian culpability for the nerve agent attack allowed Russia to revel in London’s apparent inconsistency on Wednesday. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson had also made the same link in interview with German TV, but his office’s tweet was deleted after the lab’s director said his scientists hadn’t determined the source of the substance.

Conspiracy theories that circulated since the 4 March attack came back to life. Russian suggestions, lampooned by the Foreign Office on 19 March that the UK, Ukraine or US were responsible and the nerve agent came from Slovakia, the Czech Republic or even Sweden resurfaced.

No matter that Britain still says it believes Russia was responsible and the tweet was deleted because Porton Down was just one of a series of sources on which is based its conclusion, its attempt to beat Russia at social media had taken a battering.

The space for doubt created by the UK’s stutter was instantly filled on social media as people shared information and theories without any checks on their veracity. That the Internet abhors a vacuum is one of the defining features of the medium.

Johnson, meanwhile, was unabashed. His response was to send a series of three tweets, one of which restated Britain’s position while the other two attacked Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, who had earlier said the foreign secretary had “egg on his face."

“28 other countries have been so convinced by UK case they have expelled Russians," Johnson wrote. “In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn chooses to side with the Russian spin machine."

There was no mention of the possibility that the British spin machine might have worked better, and certainly no apology. Bloomberg

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