Years ago during the Soviet era, Private Eye magazine ran a cartoon that summed up the sentencing of dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn to the Gulag for 20 years. Two ordinary Russians in Red Square watch a jet flying eastwards overhead and one turns to the other and says. “I hear Solzhenitsyn got twenty years.” The other answers, “Imagine what he would have got if he was guilty.”
In our Western democracies we all knew that a trial in Russia back then was just a show trial with manufactured evidence, if any, with the harsh sentence a forgone conclusion. Fast forward forty years and the shoe is on the other foot. The Yanks accused Russia of meddling in the American elections but said they couldn’t provide any proof of it for ‘security reasons’ that old chestnut. But this unproven allegation led to the West imposing economic sanctions on Russia, a move that hurts both sides. As I wrote not too long ago, “The accusation has become the conviction.”
Now a Russian double-agent is chemically poisoned in the UK and without proof again, Russia is being blamed. As the Express pointed out yesterday, the incident happened a mere eight miles from the biggest store of chemical weapons in Europe, operated and run by the British security forces. Regardless of this, and in the absence of any completed investigation, Boris Johnson is threatening a ‘robust response’ against the Russians.
Nearer home, we are being told that Russian spies have targeted IT companies here with a view to industrial espionage by stealing vital secrets. The real secrets of all of these companies, of course, are not stored in Ireland. Such valuable intellectual property is kept back in the good old USA at head office. So this Russian spy story is also probably nothing more than yet another false flag and a chance to drive another wedge between Russia and the West.
A less well covered story of a real proven international incident between Russia and the West, was reported here in Cork last Thursday. It involved an obvious high ranking Russian spy and a serious breach of our national security services. Cool as you like, a Comrade Putnik Neizvestny, a known Russian national, broke into Anglesea St Garda Station and did God knows what for God knows how long until he was only apprehended by excellent police work.
This latter-day James Bondski snuck into the station via the rear car park and through the fire exit where bicycles are stored and as yet, the Gardai have not said what significance those bicycles might have had in the case. We are then told that he went on a walkabout on the first, second, and third floors, where no doubt sensitive security information was wall-to-wall for his perusal. Then we hear the unreconstructed Commie tried to get out onto the roof of the building but was unsuccessful due to an excellent lock on the skylight. He then circled the third floor, second floor and first floor before exiting the way he entered, (The bicycles again!), and then walked calm as you like, into the lobby through the front door and over to the public hatch. As anyone can see, we are dealing a very cool pro in this Neizvestny lad. He demonstrated nerves of steel throughout.
But not happy to leave it as a successful spying mission carried out to perfection, “He told the guard on duty where he had been and said he was checking the security of the building.” The nerve of him taunting the Irish State like that. But the aforementioned excellent police work came in the form of the duty sergeant who decided to believe the lad and promptly arrested him. The subsequent court case heard that he was a ‘most engaging’ man and highly intelligent. Frank Buttimer, solicitor, said at the hearing in the District Court, where the accused pleaded guilty: “He is an unusual gentleman who is most engaging. I have had conversations with him. He is highly intelligent, has excellent English and I don’t think he is offensive. He is demonstrative and expressive. He has admiration for the Brehon laws of this state.”
Of course, this is the same Frank Buttimer who is known in legal circles in Cork as the “Patron Saint of Lost Causes.” Judge Kelleher decided to send a blunt and severe warning straight to the Kremlin. He said it was a serious matter, and one can only suppose that Putin was forced to sit up and take notice. The good Judge then imposed a three months prison sentence on Neizvestny, backdated to February 22 when the accused went into custody. The Russians now know, in no uncertain terms, not to mess with the fighting Irish. We take a tough line in this country with foreign spies Vlad!
OK, there is no chance of Putnik actually serving any time. We have overcrowding in our prison system so what will probably happen is that the Gardai will taxi him up to Limerick jail where he will be met by prison officers, talked to and be given tea. Then a Limerick squad car will taxi him back to his home in St Mary’s Lane, Upper John St, Cork that same night, because that’s how we do stuff. But it’s the principle of the thing you see. We apprehended a dangerous Russian spy on a mission, tried and convicted him and in doing so, sent a strong message to Moscow.