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The Ease of Accusation: The Skripal Affair

The policy of responding to assassinations on British soil is a near non-existent one. Her Majesty’s Government is certainly in the habit of huffing, and steam can issue from deliberations in the House of Commons. But substance is often absent.

When Buzzfeed conducted an investigation into the mortuary of incidents in 2017, it found a degree of indifference on the part of British authorities. Trumpeting findings that fourteen individuals had “been assassinated on British soil by Russia’s security services or mafia groups, two forces that sometimes work in tandem”, the reporters honed in on British sluggishness. While the Russian bear was busy, Britannia was asleep.

The attempted poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia by a nerve agent is coloured by such a backdrop. With each day, Downing Street has had to seem to be doing something in linking the attempted killings with identifiable culprits. Britain is at a low ebb, barely finding its place at the Brexit negotiation table with the European Union. Weakness and questionable competence is all around.

While this has happened, President Vladimir Putin has been re-elected. Russia is revitalised. The Kremlin comes with conveniently heavy baggage of blame. A perfect situation, then, to point a distracting finger of accusation, making Britain the first state to accuse another of attacking it with a chemical weapon since the Chemical Weapons Convention came into force in 1997.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has obviously been landed the job of running the accusations which have been beaded together with faux consistency. The case for the prosecution, he argues, is that the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack was of the Novichok group “according to our scientists at Porton Down.”

The second point is track record and experience. “You also have to consider,” he explained to Deutsche Welle, “that Sergei Skripal is somebody who is being identified as a target for liquidation and that Vladimir Putin has himself said that traitors, i.e. defectors such as Mr Skripal, should be poisoned.”

Let us take the Novichok suggestion. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which oversees the implementation of the CWC, claimed on March 16 that there was “no record of the Novichok group of nerve agents having been declared by a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Where intelligence matters are politicised, links will be forged and tenuous ties made. The Russian factor, goes the British line, is unmistakable and unimpeachable. This, despite certification by the OPCW that Russia destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical weapons pursuant to the CWC. Or that its source of production – the Nukus plant in Uzbekistan – was dismantled and decontaminated with the assistance of the United States in accordance with the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program in 1999. Brows might well crease with suspicion at that very fact.

Then comes the ease with which Novichok agents can be made. According to military chemist Vil Mirzayanov, the man who first revealed the existence of the chemical family, making such compounds using commercial ingredients is hardly a herculean task. This very fact flies in the face of the British claim of Russian exclusivity.

Despite such spanners being cast into the works, individuals such as John Lamb of Birmingham City University insist that, “The Novichok family was specifically created by Russia to be unknown in the West and as such it’ll be one of their most tightly guarded secrets.”

Except, of course, when US scientists made contact with the Uzbek plant in question. Couple this with the throwaway line in a 2007 Stratfor study on makers of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the singular premise starts to wither: “Cuba is believed to have developed these chemical weapons: tabun, sarin, soman, yellow rain, novichok, phosgene oxime, arsine trihydride, and hydrogen cyanide.”

The second point – the poisoning of traitors, defectors or the like – only makes sense if Skripal had turned a newly rotten leaf.  Political opponents, dissidents and journalists constitute ongoing threats; a double agent living out his days away from the service in Salisbury – if it can be assumed he ever left it – hardly cuts the mustard. It would, for one thing, make the largest post-Cold War spy exchange moot.

“If they really wanted the man dead,” suggests Justin Glyn, “a convenient accident could surely have been arranged while he was still in prison.” Yet here was a statement of blatant, open incrimination, delivered with distinctly odd timing.

Even major papers are pondering the sense of targeting Skripal. “So far,” goes the Financial Times, “the picture that has emerged of Mr Skripal suggests he was living a quiet life and had left his days as a colonel in Russia’s military intelligence arm, the GRU, and as a high-value M16 informant, well behind him.” Links to private intelligence firms such as Christopher Steele’s Orbis, the entity behind the Trump-Russia dossier, are also discounted.

That said, the paper goes on to suggest that Skripal had not been fully decommissioned. A “senior security source” – anonymously cited, naturally – is quoted as claiming that, “There was interest from friendly foreign services after he was released in the spy swap. He was useful for a limited period.” Hardly a ringing endorsement for murder.

Putin, however, remains irresistible as the accused. He furnishes Johnson with historical elevation and purpose. “We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.”

On this occasion, domestic politics, as it often does, is driving the international response. Diplomats have been expelled from both states. Harsh words are being traded. Strikingly, Britain, in defiance of the spirit behind the CWC, has refused to surrender any of the Novichok samples to Russian investigators. The dense incongruity of it all might, in time, only be illuminated by Skripal himself. Double agents, let alone ones dedicated to one side, never quite abandon their briefs.


14 comments

  1. kerri

    Even Vladimir Putin said if it were Russias doing they would both be dead.
    Were they chosen because of limited fMily members to take up the cause?
    Whoever did it, it is a major clisterf**k.

  2. Glenn Barry

    Wonderful article – this entire episode has WMD II written all over it, no wonder Putin is smirking

  3. JohnF

    This story is getting old. The Skripals have not been seen on camera, while the last celebrity poisoning, Alexander Litvinenko, died on our screens over weeks. The very selective nature of the poison (the first person on the scene to render first aid was unharmed) and the effects allegedly limited to three people suggests to me it was more likely food poisoning.

    Separate out the geopolitical motivations and the story becomes more intriguing.

    Thierry Meyssan suggests Tilllerson and May attempted to leverage the incident and launch a false flag chemical attack in Syria to justify a US attack without the knowledge of the White House or Pentagon. The Russians got wind of it and approached the Pentagon directly. The message was relayed to Trump who fired Tilllerson immediately and called him home.
    https://www.voltairenet.org/article200232.html

  4. Christopher

    Looks like the Brits or the US did it – a false flag event is the biggest suspect for me. Thank you Binoy

  5. Zathras

    Of all the other possibilities I’m intrigued by the notion that the Russians would be so inept as to assassinate someone using the only method that would identify them as the obvious culprits.

    What do they have to gain by self-incrimination?

  6. Terry2

    Why have the Brits refused a joint investigation with the Russians and why will they not provide any of the nerve – gas to Russian authorities ?

    Why has Boris Johnson tried to link the upcoming football world cup in Russia to the 1936 propaganda Olympics run by Adolf Hitler ? Is he building up to a boycott ? You don’t make these sort of allegations and then just meekly turn up and play football in an environment that you believe to be criminal and corrupt.

    Still, Theresa May has got a boost in the leadership opinion polls so maybe it’s working in her favour : quick, check with Cambridge Analytics !

  7. jimhaz

    Due to the general personality of Putin and all his actions, I have no problem whatsoever believing the stance being presented.

    Perhaps it was just a signal to warn other current spies to stay away from talking about their Trump dealings.

    I don’t see why the UK would bother with a play like this.

  8. Glenn Barry

    Zathras, Terry2 & JohnF – the way the poisoning incident is being played out it doesn’t even strike me a a genuine attempt to deceive

    Paul Walter – neoliberalism has brought us the complete dystopian manifestation and with the concerted efforts by conservative govts. worldwide to control the entire narrative

  9. paul walter

    Yes and don’t they get anxious when there is a hiccup?

  10. Jaz

    John F , great links mate , thanks for posting them.
    The fact that the UK Govt is denying Russia consular access to the daughter a Russian citizen , the UK is in breach of International law and is inhibiting Russia’s right to due process , but the May Govt doesn’t seem to think that it has to follow agreed processes or abide by international laws. It’s not like the ever be held to account anyway ..
    Imagine if the roles were reversed and Russia was denying UK consular access to one of its citizens in a Russian hospital the victim of a nerve agent assasination attempt ..
    My god every news outlet in the west would go bezerk .and the US ‘s encirclement of nukes which currently border Russia would suddenly go live . Ha ha
    But funnily enough the west’s media aren’t interested in asking questions regarding even the most simple of irregularities that surround this story . Of which there are many .
    I wonder why that is ?
    There is much more to this story , and I do dearly hope it blows up in thier lying piece of shit Tory faces ..

  11. paul walter

    May is as least as pathetic as Putin.

    The ghost of Orwell rattles its chains.

  12. randalstella

    Yes, indeed, why are the British Government blocking Russian Government access to the nerve-gas victims?
    Might it be because the Russian Government are trying to kill these two people? Would the critically ill want Russian functionaries hovering over their beds?
    Otherwise, what have we got?: that the British Government and/or its secret confederates poisoned these two, in order to blame the Russians?
    Another comment above: Putin says that if he did it, the two would be dead. Our boy Vlad is a supreme hitman. He has pride in his achievements. How reassuring. But what precisely does it mean to post that as a defence of Putin?

    If it ever went away, the Cold War is back, slightly warmed over. It’s back to American mass-murder versus Russian mass-murder. Empire versus empire. Anyone of any decency and brains has always refused to take either side. But that has never suited Leftoid fancies. Such rebels as they are.

    Putin is a murdering thug running a profoundly corrupt terror regime of ruthless capitalist oligarchs, who will kill anyone who gets in the way of their super-profiteering. Just the guy for Leftoid fans. The Cold War returns now quite explicitly as a capitalist war for resources.

    Leftoids: the extreme Right under another brand name. Badged for compulsively adversarial delusion in the same factory of industrialised culture. Go to any site run by Right-wing nut jobs, and see there, in mirror image, fabulous conspiracy theories, with the names changed to indulge their brand of madness; with a million links to other crazies with time on their hands to play War games.

    The neutral passing reference to the latest Russian elections clangs the cracked bell of partisanship. It amounts to support for vote-rigging and the murdering suppression of any opposing opinion, and any formal Opposition. The neutral reference commends this rule by terror. The absence of any criticism of the election suits the obfuscation that muddies the waters over flagrant Russian hits squads who deliver such brazen messages about what can happen to anyone who bucks the system. That’s why they use a well-known Russian poison, so there can be no mistake.
    Then their shills do their little job of pretending otherwise, with pet fantastic conspiracies.

    This piece with its intrigue against the truth cucks contributors here who may have some concern for truth. These contributors may avert their gaze, but by doing that they appease thuggery against the truth, and the ‘theorists’ who obfuscate in support of hoodlum Politics.

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