Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious March 4 on a bench in a shopping mall in Salisbury, about 90 miles west of London. After the attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May said March 12 that Russia is “highly likely” to be responsible for poisoning, revealing to British lawmakers that the nerve agent used against the former spy and his daughter is called Novichok. The chemical weapon was said to have been developed in the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
On March 15, President Donald Trump, French President Emmanual Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with May, said in a joint statement that they “abhor” the attack against Skripal. “It is an assault on U.K. sovereignty and any such use by a State party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all,” the statement read. When Moscow failed to respond, May expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the U.K.
“All who have been identified as declared intelligence officers: they have just one week to leave,” May said. “This will be the single biggest expulsion for over 30 years and it will reflect the fact that this is not the first time the Russian state has acted against our country.”
Sergei Skripal Spy Background
Skripal served with Russia’s military intelligence, often known by its Russian-language acronym GRU, and retired in 1999. He then worked at the Foreign Ministry until 2003, and later became involved in business. Skripal was arrested in 2004 in Moscow and later confessed to having been recruited by British intelligence in 1995. He also said at the time that he provided information about GRU agents in Europe, receiving over $100,000 in return.
In 2006, Skripal was convicted on charges of spying for Britain and sentenced to 13 years. However, he later was pardoned and released from custody in July 2010 as part of a U.S.-Russian spy swap, which followed the exposure of a ring of Russian sleeper agents in the United States. Skripal’s wife and son have both died in recent years. Prior to his wife’s death, however, she reportedly told police that she feared for her husband’s life, the New York Daily News reported.
The Kremlin rejected suggestions it was behind the poisoning, with officials saying on March 12 they had not heard any official statements of Russian involvement. Peskov also told reporters Skripal worked for British intelligence and was poisoned on British soil, and therefore the incident “has nothing to do with Russia, let alone the Russian leadership.”
After denying the allegations, Moscow sent multiple requests to Britain, asking for all available evidence and chemical samples to be shared. However, the requests fell on deaf ears as London sent only “meaningless formal replies,” according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
It turns out Russia may be right.
On March 16, 2018 OPCW, the UN chemical weapons watchdog, said none of its member states have declared possessing ‘Novichok-class’ nerve agent, which London claims was used in the poisoning of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal.
“There is no record of the Novichok group of nerve agents having been declared by a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention,” the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a press release on March 16th, 2018. Nearly all countries in the UN are members to the OPCW, except for Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan.
The watchdog said open-source information on the agents in this class is sparse. It added that OPCW experts are searching through scientific and technical sources available to them.
Craig Murray (AntiWar.com) received confirmation from a well placed FCO source that Porton Down scientists were not able to identify the nerve gas as being of Russian manufacture, and were resentful of the pressure being placed on them to do so. Porton Down would only sign up to the formulation “of a type developed by Russia” after a rather difficult meeting where this was agreed as a compromise formulation. The Russians were allegedly researching, in the “Novichok” program a generation of nerve agents which could be produced from commercially available precursors such as insecticides and fertilizers. This substance is a “novichok” in that sense. It is of that type. Just as I am typing on a laptop of a type developed by the United States, though this one was made in China.
To anybody with a Whitehall background this has been obvious. The government has never said the nerve agent was made in Russia, or that it can only be made in Russia. The exact formulation “of a type developed by Russia” was used by Theresa May in parliament, used by the UK at the UN Security Council, used by Boris Johnson on the BBC yesterday and, most tellingly of all, “of a type developed by Russia” is the precise phrase used in the joint communiqué issued by the UK, USA, France and Germany in their statement:
This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.
When the same extremely careful phrasing is never deviated from, you know it is the result of a very delicate Whitehall compromise. Murray’s FCO source, like him, remembers the extreme pressure put on FCO staff and other civil servants to sign off the dirty dossier on Iraqi WMD, some of which pressure Murray recounts in his memoir Murder in Samarkand. She volunteered the comparison to what is happening now, particularly at Porton Down, with no prompting from Murray.
Did you know these interesting facts?
OPCW inspectors have had full access to all known Russian chemical weapons facilities for over a decade – including those identified by the “Novichok” alleged whistleblower Mirzayanov – and last year OPCW inspectors completed the destruction of the last of 40,000 tons of Russian chemical weapons
By contrast the program of destruction of US chemical weapons stocks still has five years to run
Israel has extensive stocks of chemical weapons but has always refused to declare any of them to the OPCW. Israel is not a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention nor a member of the OPCW. Israel signed in 1993 but refused to ratify as this would mean inspection and destruction of its chemical weapons. Israel undoubtedly has as much technical capacity as any state to synthesize“Novichoks”.
Until this week, the near universal belief among chemical weapons experts, and the official position of the OPCW, was that “Novichoks” were at most a theoretical research program which the Russians had never succeeded in actually synthesizing and manufacturing. That is why they are not on the OPCW list of banned chemical weapons.
Porton Down is still not certain it is the Russians who have apparently synthesized a “Novichok”. Hence “Of a type developed by Russia”. Note developed, not made, produced or manufactured.
It is very carefully worded propaganda. Of a type developed by liars.
Who’s to Blame, then?
Michael Shrimpton of Veteran’s Today reports:
The evidence in fact points strongly towards Germany’s covert GO2 intelligence organization, headquartered at Vauxhall Cross in London, not least if the rumor that Colonel Skripal was about to unmask GO2’s role in producing the dodgy dossier on Donald Trump has any substance.
Undoubtedly serious, this was the first known chemical warfare attack in the UK since the DVD tried to assassinate me using the banned substance saxitoxin in 1999, an attack the Blair government let pass without comment.
In saying that I discount the absurd conspiracy theory that that nice man Vladimir Putin ordered the murder of Lt-Col Alexander Litvinenko in London on November 1st 2006. Lt-Col Litvinenko in fact poisoned himself, with Prussian Blue, the dangerous, metallic antidote to Polonium-210. (Technically, Po-210 is a radiation weapon, rather than a chemical weapon, of course.)
I am aware of course that retired High Court judge Sir Robert Owen, a nice chap with respect, was parachuted in to replace the Coroner, Dr Andrew Reid. Sir Robert, who unlike Dr Reid had no medical qualifications at all, conducted a secretive and non-transparent inquiry which was never shown the original autopsy report. Lacking medical expertise, and not being the sharpest knife in the box in any event (no offense intended), Sir Robert was easily fooled into thinking that Lt-Col Litvinenko had been murdered.
As with the attack on Col Skripal no credible motive has been suggested for the supposed attack on Lt-Col Litvinenko. He had circulated a conspiracy theory of his own, concerning the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who had a bee in her bonnet about alleged Russian human rights violations in the Second Chechen War. There was the odd violation, no doubt, but nothing to write home about.
Litvinenko was being bankrolled by corrupt Russian millionaire Boris Berezovsky, who had probably been participating in German-controlled offshore high yield trading programs. It seems to have been Berezovsky who came up with the bright idea of having Litvinenko take Polonium along with the antidote, so that it would look like an assassination attempt but he would survive. Unhappily the poor man contracted peritonitis, a known potential side-effect of taking Prussian Blue. The Polonium came not from Russia, but from Iran, via a cargo airfield near Hamburg. The Polonium trail led back to Russia, but not from Russia.
Wracked with guilt, Berezovsky eventually topped himself, in 2013. As with the Skripal allegation, the offensive allegations that Litvinenko was murdered and that the Russian government was responsible were unsupported by any credible evidence.
On Cabinet Office direction such evidence as existed, was suppressed from the Russian government by Sir Robert through the controversial use of so-called Public Interest Immunity (PII) certificates. As I explain in Spyhunter PII certificates are of dubious legality, having their origins in a pathetic attempt in World War II to cover up an Abwehr sabotage operation against the British submarine, HMS Thetis.
Where were the Skripals poisoned?
Col Skripal and his daughter were found on a park bench, near the Maltings shopping mall, which is in the center of Salisbury, right by the river. They were helped by a policeman (Wiltshire Constabulary is the best-run force in Britain).
The secretiveness of the May government is not helping. However it looks as though the police officer who was also incapacitated, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who thankfully is on the road to recovery (as are the Skripals), was not the officer who found them slumped on the bench. It seems that he was incapacitated after he went to the Skripal’s home, also in Salisbury. Since he was a detective, not a beat officer, that would make sense.
My analysis at this time is that the nerve agent was introduced to the Skripal’s home, probably in aerosol form. The house is not believed to be air-conditioned, so it was probably sprayed onto something they both touched, possibly the front door, which DS Bailey would have opened. (I am assuming that Colonel Skripal’s house keys were found with him).
The Cui Bono principle
The ‘who gains?’ principle is a valuable intelligence analysis tool. President Putin had nothing whatsoever to gain by whacking Col Skripal. Although he was a convicted traitor he had been pardoned and exchanged in a spy swap. Moreover his daughter was living openly in Moscow. Col Skripal himself is reported to have had fairly recent contact with the Russian Embassy in Kensington Gardens.
Not even the old KGB ever went back on a spy swap. They would have regarded it as nekulturny. The SVR, Russia’s external intelligence service, are highly professional. They’re also very nice people. As an agency they would be even less likely than the KGB to go back on a spy-swap. No one would ever do a swap with them again.
The Germans on the other hand have a lot to gain. They’ve been wedging the Western Allies from Russia since 1945. Theresa May’s government is in trouble over Brexit. The old Reichstag Fire strategy of distracting attention with a false flag allegation is just the sort of thing to appeal to a cold-hearted, calculating, secretive, machine politician like Mrs May, no offense intended. I’m not comparing her to Hitler, BTW – I rather suspect that our community partner Adolf Hitler was much more charming, again no offense to Mrs May intended.
Russian Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Naryshkin has stated that London is destroying evidence related to the Skripal case. Naryshkin, when asked to comment on sanctions against two Russian nationals over their alleged role in the Skripal case, said:
“This is a dirty provocation by British authorities because it is clear that they constantly try to cover up traces of the crime that was committed and destroy evidence. They started doing so the moment the incident took place. Not to mention the fact that they are keeping mum on where our citizens Yulia Skripal and her father are now. Why are they hiding [them]?”
In early December, Naryshkin said that the truth can only be uncovered through a professional, joint investigation by both Russia and the UK, adding that the British side has rejected all Russian offers to help with the probe.
According to him, the British investigation into the Skripal case currently looks like “a farce, a provocation.”
On 19 December (2018), the US Treasury Department said that Washington had sanctioned Russian nationals Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov over their alleged involvement in the nerve agent attack on the Skripals. Earlier, the UK-based Bellingcat project claimed that it had identified Boshirov as Russian military intelligence colonel Anatoliy Chepiga and suggested that Petrov was actually a military doctor, named Alexander Mishkin.
For her part, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the publication about the alleged identity of the suspects as “fake news” aimed at diverting public attention from what happened in Salisbury. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in turn said the fact that it remains unclear where the Skripals currently are proves that the UK government and intelligence has “something to hide” about the matter.