Conclusive Evidence of the Russian State’s Guilt in the Skripal Case Is Lacking — and That’s Important

Yves here. We’ve not featured any stories on the charges made against Russia in the Skripal case, in part because the subject is a bit wide of our beat and it thus seemed best to relegate it to Links. However, the effort to isolate an major power on what looked like shaky charges, and then get the media in full throated roar behind them has been a spectacle to behold, and not in a good way. And any developments of such geopolitical importance wind up having economic effects.

Yesterday, the Guardian drily reported that the absolute confidence with with the UK government had pinned the poisoning on the Russian state was looking ill-founded:

British scientists at the Porton Down defence research laboratory have not established that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal was made in Russia, it has emerged.

The very fact of the article below, at the UK website openDemocracy says it’s now acceptable to question the official narrative. Before, anyone who had dared voice doubt would have been deemed to be a Russian operative or a stooge. Mind you, that’s a long shot from this development getting the attention it warrants. The story is buried at the Independent. And from the start of the story at the BBC:

The precise source of the nerve agent used to poison a Russian ex-spy and his daughter has not been verified, says the head of Porton Down laboratory.

The defence research facility, which identified the substance in Salisbury as Novichok, said it was likely to have been deployed by a “state actor”.

The UK said further intelligence led to its belief that Russia was responsible.

By David Morrison, who has written widely on the Middle East including two highly regarded pamphlets – ‘Iraq: Lies, half-truths & omissions’ and ‘Iraq: How regime change was dressed up as disarmament’ – on the deception perpetrated by the British government to induce the British public to support military action against Iraq.He is the co-author with Peter Oborne of “A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran” (published by Elliott & Thompson, 2013). Originally published at openDemocracy

It is difficult to obtain 100% proof in cases such as the Sergey Skripal poisoning. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t demand as much evidence — from our politicians and law enforcement — as possible.

The restaurant in Salisbury near to where former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal was found critically ill by exposure to a nerve agent. (c) Andrew Matthews/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.

The UK Government has not presented conclusive evidence that the nerve agent used in the attempted assassinations of Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia originated in Russia, let alone that the Russian state was responsible for these crimes.

The Prime Minister’s statementto the House of Commons on 12 March 2018 said:

“It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. It is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

“Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the Government have concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.”

That is a heroic effort to connect the Russian state with the attempted assassinations, but it is almost entirely devoid of facts that do so.

To make a connection, the ideal scenario would have been that, having carried out the relevant analysis on the nerve agent used, Porton Down scientists were able to state unequivocally that it was manufactured in Russia. Clearly, they were not able to do so, otherwise it would have been at the heart of the Prime Minister’s message to the House of Commons on 12 March.

Think of the difference it would have made to her case that Russia was responsible if she had been had been able to say:

“Our world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down have established that the agent used was produced in Russia”.

Instead, in trying to prove the Russian state responsible, the Prime Minister had to make do with saying that the nerve agent used was “of a type developed by Russia” and “Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so”. That raises the possibility that Russia may have been the source of the nerve agent, but it is a long way off from proof.

And it certainly doesn’t rule out the possibility of another state (or even a non-state entity) being responsible for its manufacture. In her statement, the Prime Minister did not attempt to argue that no state other than Russia is capable of manufacturing the agent used in Salisbury.

On 20 March, the New Scientist saidthat “several countries could have made the nerve agent used in the chemical attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal”. It also said that “other countries legally created Novichok for testing purposes after its existence was revealed in 1992 and a production method has even been published” by Iranian scientists in 2016. The creation of Novichok for testing purposes is legal under the Chemical Weapons Convention, partly so that agents can be identified in situations like Salisbury. The UK may be one of those countries: in an interviewwith Deutsche Welle on 20 March, Boris Johnson was asked if Porton Down possesses samples of Novichok: he replied “they do”.

Former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who has commented extensively on the fallout from the events in Salisbury on 4 March,wrotethe following on 16 March:

“I have now received confirmation from a well-placed FCO [Foreign & Commonwealth Office] source that Porton Down scientists are not able to identify the nerve agent as being of Russian manufacture, and have been 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.”

Russia Declared Guilty

On 14 March, the Prime Minister returnedto the House of Commons to declare Russia guilty of the attempted assassinations and to pronounce sentence (which was the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and a range of other measures).

On that occasion, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tried to do his job as Leader of the Opposition and seek information about the progress of the investigation. In particular, he asked the Prime Minister if tests had been done on the nerve agent at Porton Down to try to identify its origin and those responsible:

“Has high-resolution trace analysis been run on a sample of the nerve agent, and has that revealed any evidence as to the location of its production or the identity of its perpetrators?”

An answer to that question would have revealed that Porton Down scientists were unable to establish the location of the agent’s production. Understandably, the Prime Minister didn’t answer that question (and others from him), since having already declared Russia guilty exploring the evidence for its guilt was redundant. Instead, she rounded on him for failing to endorse wholeheartedly the guilty verdict she had declared.

OPCW Verifies Destruction of Russia’s Chemical Weapons Programme

On 27 September 2017, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced that it had verified the completion of the destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons programme. Understandably, the Prime Minister didn’t mention this relevant fact in her indictment of Russia in the House of Commons on 12 March.

Of course, this doesn’t absolutely exclude the possibility that Russia continues to hold chemical weapons stocks and/or production facilities. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on 18 March Boris Johnson claimedjust that, saying:

“We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purpose of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok.”

And the Prime Minister toldthe House of Commons something similar on 26 March. But neither gave any evidence.

The OPCW is the international body charged with the implementation of theChemical Weapons Convention. The Convention, which came into force on 29 April 1997, bans the acquisition and use of chemical weapons and requires state parties to destroy existing stocks and production facilities upon joining.

However, state parties are allowed to produce small quantities of chemical agents, in order to develop countermeasures to them (see UK Government document The Truth About Porton Down). If Boris Johnson is to be believed, Porton Down possesses samples of Novichok.

States that joined prior to the Convention coming into force were allowed 10 years to complete the destruction of their stocks and production facilities. Both the US and Russia were unable to fulfil that requirement and had to be given additional time to complete the destruction. US is now the only state party to the Convention that still hasn’t fulfilled that requirement – it is scheduled to do so in 2023. All the states in the world apart from Egypt, Israel, North Korea and South Sudan are now parties to the Convention.

On 27 September 2017, the OPCW Director-General, Ahmet Üzümcü, congratulatedRussia in the following terms:

“The completion of the verified destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons programme is a major milestone in the achievement of the goals of the Chemical Weapons Convention. I congratulate Russia and I commend all of their experts who were involved for their professionalism and dedication…”

Addressing a conference of OPCW state parties in November 2017, the UK Ambassador to the OPCW, Peter Wilson, praised Director-General Üzümcü and listed his achievements during the year. These included: “the completion of the verified destruction of Russia’s declared chemical weapons programme.”

He didn’t qualify this achievement in any way: he didn’t suggest that Russia had an undeclared Novichok programme. The UK was, apparently, content that all of Russia’s chemical weapons stocks and production facilities had been eliminated. It is strange that a few months later the UK is claiming that Russia is “creating and stockpiling Novichok” and “investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purpose of assassination”.

OPCW State Parties “Shall Consult and Cooperate”

Article IX.1 of the Chemical Weapons Convention lays down that state parties to the Convention “shall consult and cooperate, directly among themselves, or through the Organization (OPCW) … on any matter which may be raised relating to the object and purpose … of this Convention”.

Article IX.2 stipulates that state parties “should, whenever possible, first make every effort to clarify and resolve, through exchange of information and consultations among themselves, any matter which may cause doubt about compliance with this Convention”. A request for information from one state to another should be answered appropriately “as soon as possible, but in any case not later than 10 days after the request”.

The attempted assassination of Sergey Skripal and daughter certainly caused “doubt about compliance with the Convention”. Under Article IX of the Convention, it was the clear duty of the UK to co-operate with other state parties including Russia (and the OPCW) to investigate this matter.

Instead, in the House of Commons on 12 March, the Prime Minister declared that the Russian state was responsible – in her words:

“There are, therefore, only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on 4 March: either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country; or the Russian Government lost control of their potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

By the time she spoke, the Russian ambassador had been summoned to the Foreign Office and asked “to explain which of the two possibilities it is and to account for how this Russian-produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury against Mr Skripal and his daughter” (in her words). And he was told “that the Russian Federation must immediately provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and he has requested the Russian Government’s response by the end of tomorrow”.

That procedure was not designed to elicit information from a fellow state party to the Convention, information which might throw light on the origin of the nerve agent used in Salisbury and who used it. On the contrary, it was an ultimatum requiring the Russian state to plead guilty, not merely to the attempted assassinations, but also to having a Novichok production programme. Understandably, Russia refused to respond.

This refusal has been interpreted by the UK government and others as evidence of guilt. In fact, unlike the UK, Russia has tried to act in accordance with its obligations under Article IX.2, offering to respond within 10 days to any UK request for information. However, the UK has not taken up this offer and it has also refused to supply Russia with a sample of the nerve agent used in the attack for testing by Russian experts (see Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs documentdated 21 March). The Russian Embassy requested access to Julia Skripal, who is a Russian citizen, but that was also refused.

UK seeks OPCW Technical Assistance

After declaring the Russian state guilty without any independent input, the UK did eventually seek technical assistance from the OPCW. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on 12 March that “we are working with the police to enable the OPCW to independently verify our analysis”.

Technical experts from the OPCW are in Salisbury at the time of writing (26 March). Court permission has been obtained for blood samples to be taken from Sergei and Yulia Skripal. This was necessary because both are unable to give permission themselves. According to the court judgement, the OPCW technical experts intend (a) to undertake their own analysis of the freshly taken blood samples for evidence of nerve agents and (b) to retest the samples already analysed by Porton Down scientists. These had originally “tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent”, according to the judgement.

What Motivated Putin To Do It?

On 16 March, Boris Johnson declaredthat it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Vladimir Putin personally ordered the attack against Sergei Skripal. But what motivated Putin to do it? To that question, the Foreign Secretary gave no answer.

At the time of the attack, a presidential election, in which he was expected to have an overwhelming victory, was imminent; in a few months’ time, Russia was going to host the World Cup and he would have the honour of presenting the Cup to the winning team. Why would he risk having this disrupted?

The attempted assassination of Sergey Skripal – a Russian who had spied for Britain using a nerve agent with Russian associations – was always going to be blamed on the Russian state and its president, whether or not the evidence warranted such a conclusion. Diplomatic and economic retaliation against Russia by Britain and its allies was inevitable. Disruption of the World Cup by, for example, the withdrawal of some of the competing countries was a possibility. At the time of writing (26 March), it looks as if the response is going to be largely diplomatic, but just imagine the reaction if more British citizens had been injured or even killed in the attack.

If Putin ordered the attack, he must have been prepared to risk this kind of retaliation and worse. But what could he possibly hope to gain by doing so? It has been suggested that, in attempting to kill Sergei Skripal, he was acting on the principle that traitors should be executed. Proponents of this theory have quoted remarkshe made in December 2010, which could be interpreted as a warning that those who betray the country would face lethal consequences:

“Traitors will kick the bucket, believe me. … Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on them.”

But why wait until the spring of 2018 before attempting to execute Sergei Skripal, when he was convicted for spying for Britain in 2006? And why, after 12 years of waiting, choose to do it two weeks before the presidential election and with the World Cup in the offing? Why not delay it to the autumn, for instance?

Also, why use a nerve gas with Russian associations in executing traitors or political opponents, which makes it easy for the finger to be pointed at Russia, whether the evidence justifies it or not? If a hand gun had been used to kill Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March, most likely he would be dead (and his daughter would be alive). Most likely also, the UK would not have been able to pin the murder on Russia and get international support for diplomatic sanctions against Russia.

The attempted killing of Sergey Skripal has had negative consequences for President Putin and the Russian state — consequences, though mostly diplomatic to date, that were entirely predictable. Those who ordered the killing would have known that there would be negative consequences for President Putin and the Russian state.

One could for forgiven for thinking that those who ordered the killing were opponents of President Putin.

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170 comments

  1. Christopher Dale Rogers

    Yves,

    Many thanks for making an objective assessment of recent events within the UK that do have major economic and geopolitical consequences, particularly the growing demand to confront Putin for crimes most are oblivious too, that actual transgressions, rather than an extreme Russophobia based on the most flimsiest of evidence that threaten a full scale nuclear conflagration, which is an existential threat – and still they warmonger.

    It is all rather more pernicious than this. essentially we seem to be sleepwalking into a ‘Totalitarianism of the Centrists’, whereby democratic outcomes must be denied, any dialogue outside what they deem correct suppressed via the imposition of censorship to save us from our own opinions, whilst professing a love for liberty and equality – forget wealth inequality.

    We have dived down a rabbit hole where the Overton Window has narrowed to an extent where light itself cannot penetrate, such are the centrists so assured of their righteousness, which is to all intent and purposes a cult – one we are required to obey without question.

    Time after time since the British electorate shocked a complacent establishment by voting to exit the EU, we have witnessed a torrent of abuse heaped on those who dare to disagree. We witnessed the gerrymandering and utter corruption of the Democratic Party Primaries, we have witnessed the demonisation and desire to null and void the US November Presidential vote, and we have witnessed within the UK not only a desire to void the EU vote, but the outcome of elections even within political groupings, namely the UK’s Labour Party.

    Indeed, such is the desire by the Establishment to remove Jeremy Corbyn, that the entire cannon of the MSM has been directed against him, whilst the Establishment forces within the Parliamentary Labour Party have stooped to ever more devious depths to undermine and eradicate the Leftist threat, to the extent of issuing early day motions giving carte blanche to a government to wage war on Putin and Russia.

    Should UK political events be of interest to Naked Capitalism and its readers above economic consideration being given to Brexit?

    In a nutshell, yes they do, because if the UK’s Establishment fail to eradicate Corbyn, and by chance he should enter Number 10, the global elite, Atlanticist and full ecosystem of the Totalitarian Centrists have a real challenge on their hands to maintain an iron consensus that’s existed for 40 years if any breach to this comes into existence – Corbyn acting as a Standard for others in the West who are sick and tired of an economic system that does not work, unless of course you belong to that small minority referred too as the 1%.

    Reply
    1. templar555510

      Thank you Christopher for a superb, excellently put comment. This is what Tariq Ali calls the ‘ Extreme Centre ‘ and how right you and he are. But neoliberalism is a Berlin Wall and with each day that passes another brick falls out and one day, not so long away I believe, it will crumble because it can no longer stand the strain of the forces marshalled against it. They may be disparate at present , but such is the nature of political ‘ moments’ throughout history that at some point coherence occurs spontaneously and the ‘ ancien regime’ topples.

      Reply
      1. Christopher Dale Rogers

        Templar,

        I must confess I’ve not read any of Tariq Ali’s material for a while, essentially, and since january, I’ve just witnessed such a full-on Establishment assault on Jeremy Corbyn, with little or no scrutiny whatsoever of the actual Prime Minister, that its become alarming. And with so much evidence now at hand both sides of the Atlantic, conclusions must be drawn, namely, our liberal democracy is presently dead – if it were not for the Internet and independent Blogs, we really would be living a Soviet era dystopia.

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  2. David

    This article is not very useful, because it muddles together three separate issues, for some of which there is evidence and for others only conjecture. A better source for trying to understand what’s going on is this blog, written by an OPCW specialist.
    I have no particular technical insight into this case, or CW in general, and I don’t know who carried out the attack, although I do have a little experience of how governments work. But we need to get three things sorted out from each other.
    First, according to open sources, and at least one leaked US diplomatic telegram, the Soviet Union did indeed develop new types of chemical agent in the 1970s and 80s for use in a future war, which were both more lethal than existing agents, and also exempt from the likely provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention then being negotiated. This suggestion no longer seems to be controversial. Again, according to open sources, these agents did not need to be declared to the CWC, and seem not to have been. It has been suggested that they were destroyed anyway, but we do not know, and if they were not, there was no violation of the Convention. Thus, the statements by the OPCW and the UK Ambassador last year would be technically true if Russia had destroyed all stocks of agents declared under the CWC, but not stocks of these new agents. There have been allegations that the composition of these agents, and perhaps information on their manufacture and use, may have been passed to other nations, or been stolen by them. But there is no confirmation of this and no specific nations or non-state actors have been mentioned. It remains a possibility, though. Because of this uncertainty, Porton Down has said that the agent used was “of a type developed by Russia.” Because it’s hard to prove a negative, we don’t know, and may never know, if it was also produced elsewhere. Thus the new Porton Down statement about which people are getting so excited, but doesn’t actually change anything.
    Secondly, it’s conceivable that the UK or some other country had completely separate information about Russian assassination plans. If so, it would not be the kind of thing that would ever be made public, so that remains supposition. But if you look at the UK government statements, they don’t suggest this. May used the terms “plausible explanations” on 12 March. In the technical sense, her statement was probably correct: either the agent was used by the Russians (not necessarily the government) or it was used by someone who had acquired the formulas and production techniques from them. She was grandstanding, of course, but it’s hard to see what a third alternative would have been: a third country independently developing exactly the same chemical agents seems very unlikely and there’s no evidence for it.
    Finally, politics, and here everything is speculation. It’s hard to see what possible motive the Russians would have for this attack, but anything else is just supposition, if not actually wild speculation.
    So shorn of the sabre-rattling the UK government position amounts to saying, “We know the Russians developed these agents” (accepted) “we believe they failed to destroy them” (quite possibly true but we have no means of knowing) and “there is no evidence that anyone else has them” (accepted). The leap from this to blaming the Russian government, and dragging in Putin, on the other hand, is pure inference, and pure politics.
    I don’t know whodunnit. The problem is that, whilst the evidence against the Russians (in the wider sense) is ambiguous, and it seems impossible to find a reasonable motive, there’s even less direct reason to suspect any other specific actor.

    Reply
    1. Bill Smith

      So Novichok “does not figure in the Annex on Chemicals of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)”? Does “does not figure” mean not included? If it is not included does that mean not banned?

      Has there been any roughly similar events in Russia itself? The one that came to mind and I looked up was Ivan Kivelidi. But that was cadmium poisoning I believe, so other than an similarly obscure method, different.

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      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’m no expert on the Convention, but my understanding of it is that there are no ‘banned’ substances as such, but ‘controlled’ substances, on the understanding that signatories are permitted to have small quantities of nerve agents for research purposes. Hence the Iranians, quite legally, made five variations of Novichuks (in very small quantities) and declared them without anyone making a fuss over it. The Convention has a series of schedules of chemicals which must be declared and facilities storing or manufacturing these compounds must be available for OPCW inspection.

        The Treaty also has an ‘all other compounds’ category that includes any organophosphate which would cover non-scheduled chemicals. So far as I’m aware the obligation is to declare stockpiles and manufacturing facilities of these and allow them to be open for inspection, but there would obviously be a huge number of such facilities, including most pesticide factories worldwide.

        So far as I’m aware – and I can stand corrected on this – it is not ‘illegal’ to have a non-scheduled substance, but there is an obligation to declare the manufacturing facilities. Again, I can stand corrected on this, but I believe some of the Novichuks were added to Schedule I after the Iranians reported that they’d synthesized them.

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      2. Paul Whittaker

        I read somewhere recently that this nerve agent was developed in Uzbekistan (or one of the other Stan’s) and that the production facilities had been cleaned out by the US military, as the the satellite is now one of their allies? The article also claimed that most agricultural pesticide producers could formulate is as it is related to insecticides used on crops.

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    2. Pat

      Unless said actors had either produced false evidence in an attempt to justify military actions before OR was known to make false accusations in order to condemn states they were planning to attack. See US and UK in 2001. Add that this time around the UK Prime Minister has every reason to try to distract her country from her incompetence and her government’s dishonest public policy, see Brexit, and there is a great deal of reason to suspect that the real culprits have nothing to do with the state actor they are accusing.

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      1. jsn

        The tangency of the victims to the Steele Dossier suggests multiple levels of political misdirection.

        In the photo at the top, is that 12 Grimmauld Place coming into view just to the left of the front door?

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    3. PlutoniumKun

      Thanks David, just one clarification:

      There have been allegations that the composition of these agents, and perhaps information on their manufacture and use, may have been passed to other nations, or been stolen by them. But there is no confirmation of this and no specific nations or non-state actors have been mentioned.

      At least one other nation has synthesised small quantities – Iran. They synthesised at least five of them apparently for the purpose of researching antidotes and they provided the information to the OPCW. Plus we know from reports 10 years ago that US researchers had full access to the Uzbekistan labs where they were apparently manufactured.

      I can’t find the link now, but I believe it was inferred from some statements that in the past Porton Down had in fact synthesized similar compounds, at the very least so they could develop techniques for identifying them.

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      1. David

        Yes, I didn’t want to write a long essay and anyway it’s not my subject, but it’s worth pointing out that nations are allowed a Single Small Scale Facility on their territory for, among other things, making and studying Schedule 1 chemicals (the most dangerous) for protective and other reasons. I’ve just looked up the reference in the CWC So many countries have technical facilities which could, in theory, produce small volumes of these new agents as well. I hadn’t seen the particular report you mention, but I think the basic point stands – that there’s nothing in the public domain to suggest that anyone has an offensive programme producing more than a few grams of these agents for protective purposes. And according to the CWC, these sites have to be inspected regularly. If these agents are not in fact illegal under the CWC (which seems to be the case) then various nations might reasonably try to synthesise small quantities for protective purposes, but I imagine it would be very hard to hide the capacity to produce quantities useful for operations. But is there a chemical engineer in the house?

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        1. Jesper

          Quantities needed for operations are on the scale of grams (based on the toxicity of the substance). Industrial amounts were not used so looking for industrial capacity to produce might be interesting but I don’t see the relevance of doing so.

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      2. Bill Smith

        “US researchers had full access to the Uzbekistan labs”

        In the books I mentioned elsewhere the labs had been abandoned years earlier with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Most of the equipment and documentation had been removed with the departing Soviets.. So yeah, the US had full access to the wreckage and learned things but it was considerably different that access to a working lab.

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    4. Donald

      I thought the article here was fine. Your summary didn’t add anything except your opinion that the evidence slightly favors Russia as the culprit. What, for instance, is the problem with a third country developing exactly the same chemical agent? My impression was that the formula is known. And all suggested motives are wild speculation.

      I have no problem saying there is a reasonable chance Russia did it, but there is also a reasonable chance someone else did it.

      Reply
      1. David

        I think your last paragraph is very reasonable. But I don’t think you understood what I was saying, or perhaps I wasn’t clear.
        The British accusation, once you get past the flag-waving and heavy-breathing, amounts to saying that one of two things happened. Either (1) the Russian government did it or (2) someone else did it making use of either the technology or the actual agents developed by the Russians. In the first case they argue that the Russians are directly guilty, in the second that they are sort of vicariously guilty, like someone who leaves a gun lying around, or the instructions on how to make a bomb. The only other possibility, it seems to me, is that another country, in complete isolation from the Russians, and unknown to anybody, developed precisely similar agents and had a reason to use them last month. The evidence for that is, well, not very great.
        The main problem, as I suggested, is mixing these sorts of arguments with political ones as though they were the same. The kind of argument that worries me (though not found on NC, I’m happy to say) amounts to saying “I loath May, she’s having a rough time with Brexit, the US lied about WMD in Iraq in 2002 therefore the Russians didn’t do it, therefore the British did.” These are the sorts of arguments that we should leave to the CT sites to play with.

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        1. PlutoniumKun

          I understand what you are saying and I agree with your caution on this, but I don’t think I’d agree that the evidence isn’t great that other countries have similar agents. I think its clear that within chemical warfare circles, the cat has been out of the bag, so to speak, for many years. The evidence would suggest that certainly the US, UK and Iranians have been studying the compounds and have presumably produced small amounts to do so.

          I think the British allegations (1) and (2) as you outline them are only the ‘probable’ evidence if strong evidence is produced that the chemical used is closely related to Russian (or Uzbek) manufactured stocks – i.e. it has the ‘chemical fingerprint’ of Russian Novichok. The statement made yesterday by Porton Down came I think very close to stating that this could not be established.

          If you are to use Occams Razor, and work on the assumption that the act was carried out by a non-State agent (or a rogue element with State connections), then that would suggest the source was from the research facility an hours walk away from the assassination attempt, not the alleged ones 5,000 km away.

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          1. larry

            How would they obtain it? A more plausible hypothesis is that Russian gangsters &/or their capitalist counterparts, who have connections with state actors, some of whom have a long standing grudge against Skripal, could have carried out the act. I am not saying that they did, only that they have a strong motive and possibly the opportunity.

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            1. integer

              Russian gangsters &/or their capitalist counterparts, who have connections with state actors

              Assuming you’re talking about capitalists that had connections to Russian gangsters like Berezovsky, Bill Browder is the man you should be looking at.

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              1. Bill Smith

                Or just plan old Russian gangsters.

                “Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?” covers some Putin’s old KGB / gangster connections there.

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            2. jsn

              As noted elsewhere in this thread, all it takes is a decent lab to produce this stuff from the information published on it by the people who developed it. As PK suggests, Occam’s Razor in this instance takes its edge from the very nearby UK chemical weapons facility that made some effort to down play the information published by the inventors of these agents back when they published.

              See: diptherio
              April 4, 2018 at 9:25 am

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        2. ricken

          My understanding of these agents is that they are a group of agents with a similar basic structure. Their general formula has been published. A chemical engineer should comment on how difficult it is to synthesize them. But keeping in mind that a Japanese fringe group was able to synthesize a nerve agent, my guess is , not very. If the Iranian government is able to synthesize it, then certainly any large university program in the west can. If they are variants of organo phosphorus compounds, as most nerve agents are, then add fertilizer and chemical companies to that list.
          The absence of any such evidence,of their synthesis outside of USSR, means nothing. We do not know what the defense and security establishments in most countries are doing. How many knew of a weaponized anthrax program at Fort Derrick?

          Many actors have a reason to discredit Russia/ Putin. You think otherwise?

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        3. Sid Finster

          So every time someone is murdered with a US made weapon or poisoned with US made chemicals, or even with chemicals originally invented in the US, sanctions against the United States are justified, if not WWIII, right?

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    5. Christopher Dale Rogers

      David,

      The best analysis in the UK has been on Craig Murray’s Blog, including full transcripts appearing from the Sky News press interview and other media sites giving a UK Gov. version – Murray used his own FCO contacts and his website and views have been 100% spot on to date.

      Reply
      1. David

        Can’t agree, I’m afraid. Murray is good on other things, but here I think he’s simply misunderstood what the UK government was alleging, as I pointed out in comments last week.

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    6. Quentin

      David says: ‘(…) according to open sources, and at least one leaked US diplomatic telegram, the Soviet Union did indeed develop new types of chemical agent in the 1970s and 80s for use in a future war, which were both more lethal than existing agents, and also exempt from the likely provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention then being negotiated.’

      I want to get one thing straight: Were the Soviets in the process of developing or trying to do so or did they actually successfully make such chemical weapons? I can only suppose these chemical weapons were in the pipeline when the Chemical Weapons Convention was finalised and therefore couldn’t be listed because they didn’t (yet) exist. If so, how do we know that the Soviets/Russians ever had such weapons? Looking around, I get the impression there is some uncertainty about the history of Novichok, even though its Russian name works prejudicially against Russia. However that may be, it is hard to accept that other states hadn’t made the same ‘type of’ weapon. After all, how is an antidote possible if the poison is not known. Or is France involved? Everyone seems to assume that the nerve agent came from outside the UK. Well, how would it every have physically been brought across the UK border. Or was it manufactured there? Maybe for sale on the streets of London–or even somewhere in the vicinity of Salisbury.

      Reply
      1. David

        My understanding from what’s been published is that the agents were developed in the 70s and 80s, and their development was finished by the time of the CWC, which they were anyway planned to circumvent. I think it’s right to say that you don’t necessarily “make” and stock CW, because the literature suggests that they decay rather quickly. So whether the Russians actually had stocks, or merely the capacity to make them when they needed them, I can’t say, and I doubt if there are many people who know. I think the antidote thing is a bit of a red herring. These are not poisons. Nerve agents like VX and Sarin worked by paralysing the muscles, and I remember that during the Cold War (and perhaps since) NATO troops carried atropine injectors to try to counteract the effects. If these agents worked in the same way, then I’m not sure there’s an “antidote” – more like generic types of emergency treatment which might save your life.

        Reply
        1. Quentin

          David: ‘My understanding from what’s been published is that the agents were developed in the 70s and 80s, and their development was finished by the time of the CWC, which they were anyway planned to circumvent.’

          You mean the Soviets then agreed to the CWC without declaring their operational ‘Novichok’ or their tested procedure to make them. Is this how it went? I really want clarity on this point. The same CWC last year certified that the Soviet Union’s successor state, the Russian Federation of course, had destroyed all its chemical weapons. It seems to be that a lot of individuals want to have everything all ways to pin the Skripals’ attack on Russia. France hovers in the background here and on Syria.

          Reply
        2. Quentin

          David: ‘My understanding from what’s been published is that the agents were developed in the 70s and 80s, and their development was finished by the time of the CWC, which they were anyway planned to circumvent.’

          You mean the Soviets then agreed to the CWC without declaring their operational ‘Novichok’ or their tested procedure to make them? Is this how it went? I really searching for clarity on this point. The same CWC last year certified that the Soviet Union’s successor state, the Russian Federation of course, had destroyed all its chemical weapons. It seems to be that a lot of individuals want to have everything all ways to pin the Skripals’ attack on Russia. France hovers in the background here and on Syria.

          Reply
          1. Bill Smith

            Read the second half of the book “The Dead Hand”. While not talking about this agent it covers a lot of this ground. Also “Biohazard” by Alibek and Handelman and “State Secrets” by Vil Mirzayanov. All published about a decade ago.

            Anyone know of any other books that more or less cover this topic?

            “The same CWC last year certified that the Soviet Union’s successor state, the Russian Federation of course, had destroyed all its chemical weapons.”

            The CWC only certifies destruction of declared chemical weapons. Is this stuff on the list of chemical weapons?

            Reply
    7. brightdark

      Why would Putin take the risk and do it? Simple, he’s done similar things before and gotten away with it.

      Reply
      1. makedoanmend

        I wonder is this the biggest tell that the average punter must keep an open mind?

        Cui Bono?

        What benefit accrued to the Russians – diplomatic storm, threat of more sanctions, possible war?

        Of course, if one thinks that Vlad Putin is evil incarnate and loves killing for the sake of it without thinking about the wider repercussions, and that the rest of the Russian establishment has absolutely no influence or input into their government, the contention is perfectly valid. (And of course it helps if we ignore that other governments in the world have been reported to “eliminate” people they find threatening to their interests or for other reasons.)

        Reply
        1. Pookah Harvey

          One scenario that might seem plausible has to do with the Steele Dossier. If Steele’s information is correct and Putin does have a sexual and financial blackmailing dossier on Trump then, as Moon over Alabama has pointed out, the Skripals probably were deeply involved in providing the information to Steele..

          The fact that this information was available to a fairly low level intelligence probe would indicate that it is widely known in Russian Intelligence.

          Why would such a powerful blackmailing dossier be so widely known? Remember when it was produced. You have a buffoon reality TV star with political connections that will jump into any honey-pot intelligence operation you provide. So salacious sexual tapes might easily have been passed around for entertainment value when Trump would have been considered a low value asset. Times have changed. Blackmail only works if the blackmailer controls the flow of the blackmailing information. Putin would want to clamp down on any more leaks about a Trump dossier. Hence both Skripal and his daughter would be blatantly targeted with a Russian audience in mind. This is what will happen if you leak no matter where you go..

          If Steele was able to obtain information about a Trump dossier then US intelligence certainly has much more. Releasing the information that Trump is a “Manchurian Candidate” in our current political situation would provoke a civil war. The Intelligence community could try to cut the legs out from under Putin’s dossier by pushing the Russian collusion story on Trump’s election. Any pro-Russian actions Trump makes will look suspicious to the general public.. This would also explain the unprecedented attacks by former American Intelligence chiefs on Trump. i.e. Ex CIA Chief Brennan’s recent tweet “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”

          This does seem to tie a lot of things together.
          1. Why Putin would assassinate the Skripals in such an open manner.
          2. The push by Intelligence Services on the story of Russian tampering in the election with little real evidence.
          3. The unprecedented personal attacks on Trump from Clapper and Brennan.

          Anyway it’s something to think about.

          Reply
          1. jsn

            I love it! It’s wonderfully baroque and it redeems our top spooks!

            Do you really think it’s possible for Trump to be embarrassed by any of his past behavior?

            Reply
            1. Pookah Harvey

              It seems to me that attractive Russian agents who where trying to get their target into the most embarrassing sexual activities would be very successful with Trump. Also remember Don Jr. and Eric have both spent quite a bit of time in Russia. Also it seems almost sure that the Russians would have enough information on money laundering to send the whole family to jail. Who knows how much that could influence Trump’s decision making.

              Reply
          2. gallam

            The problem with that narrative is that none of the three people apparently poisoned by one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man have actually died. Indeed, two out of three have recovered in less time than some people take to recover from flu.

            Reply
            1. Pookah Harvey

              A less than fatal dose is maybe what was planned. From the Guardian:

              “Circles appeared before my eyes: red and orange. A ringing in my ears, I caught my breath. And a sense of fear: like something was about to happen,” Andrei Zheleznyakov told the now-defunct newspaper Novoye Vremya, describing the 1987 weapons lab incident that exposed him to a nerve agent that would eventually kill him. “I sat down on a chair and told the guys: ‘It’s got me.’”

              By 1992, when the interview was published, the nerve agent had gutted Zheleznyakov’s central nervous system. Less than a year later he was dead, after battling cirrhosis, toxic hepatitis, nerve damage and epilepsy.

              Only time will tell the final effects of the attack. This seems like a very horrible end, worse then a simple assassination.

              Using Novichok points the finger at Russia but also gives them a credible deniability, (other countries can produce the agent). The target audience (Russians who know of the dossier) will very clearly understand the warning.

              Again this is only a scenario. But I feel that it is as plausible as any other put forward. My other favorite is Moon of Alabama’s guess that Israel might have done it .

              Reply
      2. Sid Finster

        Rather, Putin has been accused of similar things. Let’s not kid ourselves – no evidence has been made public, other than hyperventilation and unsubstantiated claims.

        Reply
      3. hemeantwell

        Why would Putin take the risk and do it?

        Exactly. Russia Hate proponents have banked heavily on blaming them or their allies for chemical attacks — this and in Syria –that only appear foolish in terms of any plausible benefit/risk calculation and which are very open to false flagging. As noted above, the conduct of the hate campaigns, in which a rush to judgement and attacks on appeals to caution predominate, is simply alarming to see in societies that are familiar with the value of careful evidentiary procedures and supposedly take them seriously. That this is coupled with an utterly hypocritical anti-“fake news” campaign makes the situation seem all the more desperate.

        My impression is that we are witnessing a barrage strategy, in which a succession of disputable accusations is made and each successive “crime” is used to undermine the possibility of reconsidering the previous charge. I don’t think of this as hysteria, but as generating an atmosphere in which the threat of a charge of disloyalty and excommunicative punishment, at least, begins to haunt us. As I’ve probably said before, one of the Frankfurt School takes on fascist ideology was that in a sense it really wasn’t one. At its core it was not systematic, but an assertion of a demand to obedience. The fascist would blabber on until someone objected, and then they would laugh and show them their pistol. As determined by the Extreme Center, Russia-focused public discourse is headed in that direction.

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    8. integer

      Jiri Matousek accused the US of weaponizing novichoks at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, as detailed in cables released by Wikileaks. Hard to imagine why a Czech scientist would make that claim for no reason. While it’s always pragmatic to refrain from rushing to judgement, one of the issues with always insisting on authoritative sources as evidence before reaching any conclusions is that the people who have the most to lose from that sort of information being made available to the public are the same people that have disproportionate control over the so-called authoritative sources.

      Reply
    9. diptherio

      According to the Russian who developed the chemicals, literally anybody with a modern chemistry lab could produce them. Also, the chemical structures were published over a decade ago.

      One should be mindful that the chemical components or precursors of A-232 or its binary version novichok-5 are ordinary organophosphates that can be made at commercial chemical companies that manufacture such products as fertilizers and pesticides. (Mirzayanov, 1995).

      Soviet scientists had published many papers in the open literature on the chemistry of such compounds for possible use as insecticides. Mirzayanov claimed that “this research program was premised on the ability to hide the production of precursor chemicals under the guise of legitimate commercial chemical production of agricultural chemicals”.

      As the structures of these compounds have been described, any organic chemist with a modern lab would be able to synthesize bench scale quantities of such a compound. Indeed, Porton Down must have been able to synthesize these compounds in order to develop tests for them. It is therefore misleading to assert that only Russia could have produced such compounds.
      http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/doubts-about-novichoks

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    10. TimmyB

      The claim that “there is no evidence that anyone else has them” (Novichok) is completely false. The formula for making so-called Novichok nerve agents has been published in a book that was sold to the public. Iran publicly admitted making such agents years ago to test them.

      Moreover, the UK would need to manufacture Novichok so it could have samples to test. Simply put, if the UK didn’t manufacture Novichok and run tests on it, then it would have no way of knowing what Novichok type nerve agents look like in a blood sample.

      Please note that since it is impossible to prove a negative, for example, prove Martians never landed on Earth, Russia will never be able to prove it did NOT poison these people. That is why our courts don’t require criminal suspects they didn’t commit a crime. Instead, the state must provide evidence that the suspect is guilty. Putting the burden on Russia to provide evidence to disprove its guilt is a propaganda trick.

      Reply
      1. Bill Smith

        Or access to gas chromatography data from someone else?

        As to Martians, check Weekly World News. They have pictures :)

        Reply
    11. Procopius

      I did not bookmark the articles, and I don’t have time or the inclination to track them down now, but I have seen at least three separate articles claiming that the Russian scientist who was responsible for the initial synthesis of Novichok was so alarmed by its dangers that he published a book, I believe in the early ’80s, not only describing the chemical formula of the product, but describing in some detail the manufacturing process. When interviewed recently, he stated that a well equipped industrial laboratory could carry out the work. It is not something you could do in your kitchen sink, but it does not require the resources of a nation-state. I am not qualified to determine if this is true, and I don’t know where the book is to be found, but I’ll bet if such a book was published, and if it is as described, every intelligence agency in the world and every terrorist organization that was in existence at the time snapped up a copy.

      Reply
  3. Ahimsa

    Did Putin really threaten to have traitors killed?
    https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/40900/did-putin-threaten-to-have-traitors-assassinated

    I tried posting this before but it got lost in the intertubes. Suffice it to say, the reported quote is: not a direct quote, a poor translation, out of context, and not refering to Skripal.

    At the time of the otiginal interview, the media reported the complete oposite meaning, i.e. Putin says Russian sexret service don’t kill traitors!

    Reply
    1. kk

      Yes, his reply if you listen in Russian with the context, meant it in a biblical way: that one way or another they would come to grief, as some moral punishment, probably the one coming from bad conscience and regrets (hence his mentioning the Judas’ 30 pieces of silver). I don’t think it was a hissing remark to promise to have anyone killed — it’s idiotic media that’s willfully taking the phrase out of context and ascribing to it what wasn’t there.

      Reply
  4. integer

    Occam’s razor suggests, to me at least, that the poisoning of the Skripals occurred at the Salisbury Zizzi restaurant. Interestingly, the Zizzi restaurant chain was recently (Feb, 2015) purchased by Bridgepoint Capital, a private equity firm with headquarters in London. Bridgepoint appears to have some connections to the UK government, for example Sir Stuart Rose (knighted in 2008), who sits on the Conservative Bench at the House of Lords, was appointed to an advisory role in 2010 .

    Anyways, just a data point, maybe the Skripals were poisoned somewhere else, but I’d be intersested to hear if any of the UK-based NC commentariat are familiar with Bridgepoint Capital, and if they know of any other connections to the UK government or intelligence agenices that Bridgepoint has.

    Reply
    1. larry

      The largest concentration was on their house door. Bridgepoint is a bit of a stretch. That hypothesis is not supported by invoking Occam’s Razor.

      Reply
      1. integer

        The largest concentration was on their house door.

        Says who? No need to answer, as I know who said it; they are not even close to being reliable sources of information. The house door claim has only recently been made, after the claims that it was the car ventlation system, car door handle, Yulia Skripal’s luggage, and Russian porridge(!). My understanding is that these kinds of substances are very volatile, so please enlighten me how it could reliably be established that it was the front door handle of Sergei Skripal’s house that contained the highest concentration of novichok four weeks after the poisoning took place? FWIW there are photos of police officers standing by that front door without any protection that were taken shortly after the poisoning occurred.

        Adding: In case you missed it, my reference to Occam’s razor referred to where the Skripals were poisoned.

        Reply
        1. larry

          Ah. The police were also standing near the bench where they collapsed. I don’t think that shows much. The house door possibility was only recently made because it seems that they had to have comapred all the sites they had been to before they could say that. It would be easy to place it there if it were in gel form in the dead of night. The car door handle could be explained by the agent coming off his hand, so this is consistent, though that does not mean it is true. The others were speculation and clearly so. Russian porridge was ridiculous.

          Occam’s Razor also can lead to suggesting that they were poisoned where they were because he lived there and therefore an easier target there. Porton Down could be an accidental coincidence. Why he chose to live there is another question.

          Reply
          1. integer

            It would be easy to place it there if it were in gel form in the dead of night.

            Exactly, but not necessarily the night before the Skripals were poisoned. My suggestion is that the poisoning occurred at Salisbury Zizzi restaurant, and that, in light of the establishment’s narrative having come apart at the seams since then, evidence has subsequently been planted, perhaps, as you speculate, via the placement of a novichok gel on Sergei Skripal’s front door handle.

            I mean, seriously, how likely is it that Sergei and Yulia would simultaneously collapse on a park bench hours after one of them touched a nerve agent covered door when they left the house that morning?

            Reply
            1. larry

              Not likely, I agree, if the attempted assassination was professionally carried out. But what if it wasn’t and the agent was substandard in qualtiy? I haven’t seen anything myself about the quality of the agent itself.

              Reply
              1. integer

                How many people does it take to close a door? The point I am trying to make is that both Yulia and Sergei ate at Zizzi bar, presumably at the same time, and then they collapsed, simultaneously, half an hour later on a park bench. Occam’s razor suggests they were poisoned during that meal. Also, and this is drawing a longer bow, Bridgepoint owns the Zizzi chain and has connections to the UK government, thus, someone at Bridgepoint may have facilitated the poisoning by, say, allowing someone from MI5 or MI6 to be there when it was suspected Sergei and Yulia would be visiting, seeing as it was apparently well known that the Salisbury Zizzi restaurant was Sergei Skripal’s favorite place to dine.

                Reply
          2. TimmyB

            The “police” standing near the bench didn’t collapse. Instead, one officer, the one who went into the home to search it, collapsed.

            Reply
      2. Procopius

        The largest concentration was on their house door.

        Ah. Who says so? Is there any independent reason to believe it? For example did a mailman or any other person get poisoned? Does anybody remember what happened to the police constable who went to the house to see if there were any relatives there? I can imagine a set of circumstances where no other person would touch the door, but we have not been given enough details to know of those circumstances are plausible. I am especially suspicious of accusations like this because we’ve had a year and a half of evidence-free claims in the United States and many millions of people there seem to be convinced cult members.

        Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      MoA has been all over the place on this issue, he’s been casting out a new theory nearly every day, many of which are as far fetched as the ‘Putin did it’ ones.

      Reply
      1. integer

        Fair enough, however each change in direction has been accompanied by a summary of why the change in direction has been made. b at MoA may not be perfect, but it’s pretty clear he disseminates information in good faith, which is more than can be said about any MSM outlet.

        Reply
      2. Carolinian

        On the contrary I’d say he’s merely been offering altenative possibilities to the hysteria and to the near impossibility that “Putin did it.”

        It’s the MSM that speaks with certainty at every turn despite facts unknown. As someone pointed out the once ubiquitous word “alleged” seems to have disappeared from our mainstream journals.

        Reply
      3. Sid Finster

        Alternative theories are perfectly acceptable, even if those theories are themselves mutually exclusive.

        If either “Yves pulled the rigger or maybe Lambert did it”, it can’t be both Yves and Lambert, but in either case it wasn’t me.

        Reply
  5. jabawocky

    ‘Yesterday, the Guardian drily reported that the absolute confidence with with the UK government had pinned the poisoning on the Russian state was looking ill-founded’

    I just think that’s misleading, because there was never an assertion from the UK Government that scientists at Porton Down had unambiguously pinned the origin of the nerve agent as from Russia, only that the scientists had identified it as a nerve agent that had previously been developed in Russia. I don’t think the article says the conclusion was ill-founded either in so many words, more that it overeggs the significance of the new statement, as David points out above.

    Porton Down worked fast to identify the agent, so they pretty much must have had a sample to use as a standard. To pinpoint the origin they would need previous analysis of multiple batches to determine discriminatory trace signatures. As these are binary agents it would be especially challenging and quite time-consuming, if it was even possible.

    Analysis is likely to be based on intelligence as to who was known to have samples of the agent, and who had motive to take out Skripal, not the science at Porton Down. It is not unreasonable to want to keep this information out of the public domain. This means it is unlikely that we will ever be shown proof, or be able to assess for ourselves the quality of the evidence. However, we equally cannot conclude from this that the evidence does not exist, and one must presume that the EU and USA were convinced enough by the evidence they were shown to join the UK in direct action.

    What s clear is that the UK is a dangerous place for former Russian spies.

    Reply
          1. gallam

            The press in the UK treated the statement as definitive too. They are now trying to pretend that he was referring to something else in the statement he made by carefully editing the question asked by the interviewer.

            Reply
      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Chris.

        Novichok? That sounds suspiciously and probably tastes like the Creamichoc dispensed by that vending machine down the corridor.

        Reply
  6. Eustache De Saint Pierre

    Isn’t this just another situation like MH-17, & the supposed Syrian Sarin gas attacks in which the actual facts are obscured in a political fog ? Perhaps we will never know in any concrete way the actual truth of the Salisbury affair or the other examples, but there does appear to a lack of the concept of reasonable doubt which doesn’t stop the guilty till proven innocent lynch mob from pointing accusatory fingers at their favourite big bad wolves.

    One thing I am sure of is that Putin is not a fool & due to that conclusion I would ask ” Cui Bono ? “. A question that I was it seems under the mistaken impression was always asked when trying to prove motive & I cannot think of any way that the affair would profit the alleged white cat stroker, although I can certainly see how as part of the constant demonisation of Russia, it profits the mudslingers, which is how I will refer to them until they provide the sort of proof needed in the opposite of a kangaroo court.

    I don’t think it will result on it’s own in a possible demonstration of the actual capability of Russia’s new weaponry, but I worry that it is another incremental step up a ladder to nowhere good. Not likely the that the tin pot poodle will send an empty aircraft carrier to the Crimea, but likely more of the same which appears to be resulting in Russia becoming more self sustaining, while increasingly being able to hit back in ways that of course wont hurt those with access to bunkers in any serious way.

    It is about faith at the end of the day, as people will believe which version of the truth suits them – after all we appear to be in a war if only a phony one – but the fog where the truth is the first casualty is real enough.

    Reply
    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Eustache.

      With regard to MH aircraft, how about the one missing in the Indian Ocean?

      Debris from an aircraft washes up frequently along the African coast from the Horn to the Cape and the archipelagos to the east, including Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion.

      Meteo France (Reunion) and France 2 (Envoye Special) are sitting on a report that suggests the debris is coming from the direction of the Maldives and Chagos / Diego Garcia, due to currents, and the state of decomposition and what’s growing on the debris suggests its coming from tropical waters mid-Ocean and in a timescale similar to when that MH Boeing 777 disappeared.

      The wild goose chase south west of Australia was a way of diverting attention and allowing the black box battery to run out of juice.

      Reply
      1. integer

        Thank you, Colonel.

        Tony Abbott was happy to engage in that wild goose chase; every dollar he spent was one dollar closer to impoverishing Australia and making us peasants see the light of the Catholic church. Just ask Bob Santamaria, or George Pell, for that matter.

        Reply
      2. Eustache De Saint Pierre

        & thank you Colonel – it does appear to me that one should carry a box of salt for immediate use in times like that of present hysteria, to be used when proven liars make knee jerk accusations, while of course keeping in mind that those who constantly Cry Wolf in such matters could actually be telling the truth.

        Schevardnardze once stated after the wall fell to a group of assembled Westerners that they had lost their much needed bogeyman – I guess we now have him back as a replacement for a series of inadequate pretenders.

        Reply
      3. Synoia

        Nice runway at Diego Garcia.

        One should search for Uinterruptable Autopilot (Not a Tesla feature) and contemplate on who has the power to trigger it’s use.

        I do wonder who or what was on the flight going to China.

        Reply
  7. Jeff

    I almost stopped reading after the first line:

    The UK Government has not presented conclusive evidence that the nerve agent used in the attempted assassinations of Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia originated in Russia, let alone that the Russian state was responsible for these crimes

    .
    The UK Government has not presented any evidence that a nerve agent was used, no evidence that it was military grade and no evidence that it was from Russia. All we know is a doctor stating some poisoning was detected.
    MoA has all the links and details as to why it is such a blatant lie.
    As to what did really happen, why the UK government set up such a scam, and why did so many countries fall so quickly in line, many theories abound. I would exclude the ‘Russian state’ here, as they can only loose and have nothing to gain.

    Reply
  8. Stephen Gardner

    Let me see. Who should we give the benefit of the doubt? The nations that attacked Iraq and unleashed jihadi violence based on a lie or the guy who stood up like an adult and prevented the fall of the only truly secular state left in the Middle East?

    Reply
  9. David

    Ok, let me wield Occam’s razor myself.
    I don’t think anyone seriously (and no I don’t mean Johnson) is suggesting that only Russia ever did or ever could manufacture these agents. Their existence has been known for a while, and according to experts the formulas have been published, so at least in theory they could be made by other states/actors assuming they were bloody careful. As PK has noted, the Iranians, at least, seem to have made them in very small quantities. So in the end we have three groups of hypotheses, if we exclude accidents, food poisoning, witchcraft etc. :
    – the attack was carried out by part of the Russian state, by some other Russian group (Mafia?) or some other unidentified group (not necessarily Russian) with direct access to the agent itself in some stored form.
    – the attack was carried out by another state or a non-state entity which had found the technical details of the Russian agent and manufactured its own stocks without being discovered, and had a motive for the attack.
    – the attack was carried out by another state or non-state entity that had quite independently developed an agent amazingly and coincidentally similar to the Russian agent without being discovered and had a motive for the attack.
    The third seems to me to be barely conceivable, and the second to rely on a motive which so far no-one has even suggested. The first, to be honest, seems unlikely, but maybe some variant of it is the least unlikely of the three. Somebody must have done it, after all.
    Incidentally, Cui Bono is not a logical argument or a principle of proof, just a point of departure for enquiry.

    Reply
    1. Martin Finnucane

      [T]he second [scenario] [seems to] rely on a motive which so far no-one has even suggested … Yes, it has been suggested: false flag. But that would just be crazy talk, right?

      “Besides, nowadays, almost all capable people are terribly afraid of being ridiculous, and are miserable because of it.”
      ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

      Reply
    2. Eustache De Saint Pierre

      Neverthess, Cui Bono is I believe a useful tool in an attempt to define guilt & as for the evidence in terms of the alleged nerve agent itself – is Porton Down what one would describe as being an independent expert ? I did read somewhere that there is an international agreement which comprises of samples in such incidents being sent to an agreed independent laboratory for testing, which if true is a path the UK Gov has decided not to follow. I also wonder about the toxicity of whatever agent was used due to the survival of the daughter, which does not seem to correspond with what I have read about the deadliness of Novichok & other varieties of nerve gas – amateurish at the very least which for me doesn’t fit that old KGB dog.

      I don’t know who carried at the attack but as you are admitting there is reasonable doubt & i would suggest that in a proper court of law the case for the prosecution would be about as watertight as a sieve.

      From RT via Zerohedge so perhaps caution needed, but if true – a sign of a backdown ?

      https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-04-03/russia-demands-uk-apologize-after-scientists-stunning-admission-about-skripal

      Reply
    3. begob

      Somebody must have done it, after all.

      But what was “it”? Far as I can tell, the only deed that nobody is disputing is that three people were treated in hospital for poisoning by a chemical agent. It’s like tossing a deck of cards in the air and trying to read them all before they hit the ground.

      Reply
      1. gallam

        Strictly speaking, the three were treated for poisoning, not necessarily by a chemical agent. It could be they ate a bad pork pie.

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    4. integer

      > the attack was carried out by another state or a non-state entity which had found the technical details of the Russian agent and manufactured its own stocks without being discovered, and had a motive for the attack.

      As I’m sure you are aware, these technical details were published in a book written by Vil Mirzayanov that was published in 2008 (IIRC) and has been available to the public since then. In any case, watching Gavin “go away and shut up” Williamson react like a scorned schoolboy who thought being one of the popular kids would be enough to allow him to dictate the narrative was enlightening to me. I would suggest you spend some time learning how to watch the way people carry themselves, rather than just accepting what they say at face value.

      What actually happens is it completely distorts the narrative of what people think about things

      – Gavin Williamson comparing Russia’s POV on the Skripal case to Nazi propaganda

      Reply
    5. Filiform Radical

      Cui Bono is not a logical argument or a principle of proof, just a point of departure for enquiry.

      Could you clarify what you mean by this? To me, noting that Putin would have less of a motivation to do this than, well, anyone who wanted to damage Russia’s standing in the international community and, based on that, reducing one’s estimate of the likelihood that he was actually responsible seems like an entirely reasonable thing to do. In what sense is it not a logical argument to make?

      Reply
        1. Filiform Radical

          Again, technically correct in what sense? My issue is I don’t really understand the point being made here. Is it that cui bono is not a formal rule of inference in the same sense that, say, ex falso quodlibet is? If so, true, but largely irrelevant in a context such as this one, where a meaningful formal proof of any claim is essentially impossible. If not, what is being said?

          Reply
      1. David

        Yes, it’s a simple and common logical error. “X benefited from this, so they obviously did it.” Whereas the correct statement would be “X benefited from this so we should look to see whether there is any actual evidence that they did it.” It’s a staple of all conspiracy theories: the classic example is the September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. “The Bush administration benefited from this so they must have done it.” And there are plenty of others.

        Reply
        1. pretzelattack

          so suggesting that the russians did it because he was a double agent, absent other evidence of what it was, exactly, and who had it, is fallacious.

          Reply
          1. David

            Absent any hard evidence, yes, if you argue that the Russians benefited from it, which I frankly doubt.

            Reply
        2. Filiform Radical

          This seems a rather uncharitable interpretation of the discussions being had here. You’re correct that, if someone were to bring up some specific non-Russian actor and assert that they were obviously the perpetrator because they benefited, they would be in the wrong. Correct me if I’ve missed someone, though, but I don’t think any of the commentariat are arguing that we know with certainty that some such actor was behind the attack.

          The point, instead, is that we should keep an open mind as to who carried it out, since there’s no substantial evidence backing the official narrative or any particular counter-narrative. Asking “Cui bono?” is simply one way of countering the nonsensical, but widely held, idea that no real evidence is needed because the Russians are obviously to blame; in point of fact, if one puts proper thought into the motivations of the various parties involved and the evidence that is available, this explanation seems less likely than many, though not impossible. The bottom line is that, if the UK wants its accusations to be credible, it must provide more evidence than it has thus far.

          Reply
          1. David

            Agreed. It’s a way of countering lazy thinking, and I would instance subtle and not-so-subtle hints that the UK government might have dunnit, which requires at least a few elements of proof rather than just assertions. I think the argument is actually more powerful if reversed, though, which is that in principle the list of potential perpetrators should be limited to those who stood to benefit in some way. I’m not sure that Russia even makes it to the starting line on that basis.

            Reply
  10. RenoDino

    Can we all agree there has been a rush to judgment and that very rush to judgment has seriously undermined the credibility of the accusations? We went from chemical poisoning to Putin in a matter of minutes with nothing in between. No perpetrators, no witness statements, and no release of evidence. The conclusions seem to predate the crime, the denunciations and diplomatic expulsions coming even before the source of the poison was discovered on the door. Having unpacked the bag of accusations, the various elements don’t seem to neatly fit back into the bag they came out of. And nothing frustrates real criminal investigators more than lack of motivation. There is no reason to murder the victims let alone in the manner ascribed.

    The only thing that makes any sense is the accusation of chemical poisoning by a state power carries with it a level of condemnation that is beyond redemption. It is THE RED LINE. History tells us that the mere mention of such use renders immediately a judgment of guilt. There is no going back. Normalization of relations is no longer an option. We must confront absolute evil with all means necessary before we all end up writhing on the floor in a pool of our own vomit, blood, and excrement delivered by an unseen power.

    Reply
    1. raoul

      good stuff. where ya been? miss your insightful commentary.

      ‘all means necessary’ only otherwise includes that third box, the first two being ballot box and soap box (this, and other forums).

      Reply
    2. jsn

      All happening at the precise moment May needs a major distraction to avoid being confronted by the Ultras in her capitulation to the EU, coincident with awkward questions about the Steele Dossier being asked across the Atlantic.

      Cui bono? Heard much on those stories lately? Just sayin’

      Reply
    3. Andrew Watts

      The only thing that makes any sense is the accusation of chemical poisoning by a state power carries with it a level of condemnation that is beyond redemption. It is THE RED LINE.

      Isn’t that the whole point of this “Russia did it!” narrative though? A few columnists were openly celebrating the fact that Trump wouldn’t be able to have a private meeting with Putin after this story broke. They’re forgetting that it’s Trump and it can still happen regardless.

      Reply
  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    Also, if this stuff is 5x more powerful than VX, how did they set up a dose level that sickened, but has not killed any of the targets?

    We are talking a difference of a few hundreds of micrograms between lethal and dehabilitating.

    LD50 for VX is 10 mg, which means that for Novichuk it is on the order of 2mg (2000 μg) (5x more potent according to reports),

    It is not unreasonable to assume that a difference of 200 μg or so, about 0.000007054 ounces is the difference, and not one, but two targets threaded this needle.

    Reply
    1. whine country

      Excellent point! But remember the idea that the public will accept the current narrative is based on the fact that most Americans still believe that Boris and Natashia are prototypical Russian agents in terms of competency.

      Reply
  12. larry

    Richard North has a fascianting blog post today about the Skripal affair at eureferendum.com. The post is titled, Salisbury: A crumbling ediface of lies.

    Reply
  13. Jesper

    Seems so many crazy theories abound that I might offer up one myself :-)

    The motive was love. One of the Skripals had an affair with an employee at the nearby research facility. The cheated spouse found out and decided to end the affair. This unbalanced individual stole poison from the research facility and then proceeded to try to kill the Skripals.
    The research facility would of course not admit that poison could be stolen so the killer gets away with it as the facility provides the perfect cover – it could not happen.

    That crazy theory has probably been discarded for the more probable: A foreign government decided to go ‘Bond-villain’ or rather ‘Austin Power -villain’ when a simple knifing would have ensured the deaths. What is the point of a deed if it isn’t done with flair and high risk of failure?

    Reply
    1. begob

      The Sun has an even more fevered scenario – the mother of the daughter’s FSB lover arranged a hit on her from Moscow. I’ve noticed some of the more lurid rumours are sourced in that paper, then picked up by the rest of the media.

      Reply
  14. tc

    Never knew NC had so many CW/BW experts lurking.

    The issue with this stuff is how to deliver it, not in the manufacture. If I was in UK’s security services, I’d be mortified that someone carried this over a border, carried it around the UK and finally delivered it to a target without any of their sensors anywhere or systems picking it up. That alone should frighten us.

    The other major issue is when the public disbelieves senior leadership so quickly on something this serious, that’s a major concern especially as the disbelief is fueled by an adversary.

    Reply
    1. integer

      > Never knew NC had so many CW/BW experts lurking

      NC has a lot of political pragmatists that demand facts rather than propaganda lurking. If you feel the need to equate that to NC commenters assuming they are CW/BW experts then that’s on you.

      > I’d be mortified that someone carried this over a border

      Which would be a fair reaction, however there is no evidence that any nerve agent was carried over the UK’s border.

      Reply
      1. Stephen Gardner

        Not only that but the only evidence we have of what it was that poisoned those people is being held by the British government. The same people who were up to their elbows in lies on the Iraq deal. And to answer TC’s point. Yes, everyone should disbelieve our leadership quickly. They have repeatedly proven themselves untrustworthy. They manipulate us with fear and they use modern techniques of advertising to march us all in the same direction. Putin is the good guy in the Middle East and no amount of fear-mongering can make me doubt the facts on the ground in favor of the idiots that brought us al qa’eda by feeding the jihadis in Afghanistan and da’esh by feeding jihadis in Iraq and Syria. Cynical use of dangerous crazies against governments our leaders perceive to be threats to their plans for world domination is both dangerous and stupid.

        Reply
        1. David

          Not the same people. The government in 2002 was led by one T Blair, a Labour politician, who was willing to overlook falsehoods perpetrated by the US so as not to lose a position of influence in Washington. Some of the present government were at school then, I think.

          Reply
          1. pretzelattack

            the brits still seem to be at washington’s beck and call, witness the years long persecution of julian assange, as well as pushing the “white hats” propaganda in syria. nothing has changed there.

            Reply
          2. Stephen Gardner

            I guess you are still laboring under the delusion that the identity of the employees of the powerful and moneyed interests that call the shots matters. Blair is an employee of the people whose votes count–the guys who vote with money. You and I vote with ballots. How many ballots does it take to buy a condo in the Virgin Islands?

            Reply
          3. fajensen

            In “Liberal Western Democracy”(tm), the composition of the Government can change and does fairly frequently. However, what cannot be changed (except in the most minor, trivial ways) are Government policies.

            Which seems to indicate that perhaps the elected part of the government doesn’t exactly write the entire script or there is a hidden filtering process somewhere, allowing only certain types of politician to reach Power.


            The sheer panic over Corbyn seems to imply that something unspeakable has slipped past the selection protocols, which favours the “filter theory”


            It was “Labour wut did it”, Well, Of Course:

            In Denmark we get the worst “reforms” and the shoddiest “privatisations” from the Social Democrats! Partly, because nobody are watching them as closely as the “Conservative” parties (who are inherently evil and most untrustworthy, according to all folklore), partly (I think) to break the voters faith in the democratic process so “they” get rid of troublesome citizen participation in Politics and partly because the Social Democrats have a deeply rooted inferiority complex and always have to prove their right to be at the “responsible politics table” – what gave us such sights as the Danish Air Force clearing the way for the beheaders in Libya.

            Reply
    2. Martin Finnucane

      Is this irony or sarcasm? I get those mixed up. Kierkegaardean levels of the same, whichever it is.

      Reply
    3. Quentin

      tc rightly asks how the stuff got into the UK if it wasn’t produced there. I know nothing about chemistry or chemical weapons. Yet I can ask questions in response to the answers I’ve heard: this stuff is so absolutely fatal that to me it seems inconceivable that it could be transported by the usual plane, boat, train entering the UK; or being made of two (?) substances that seem readily available as pesticides and/or fertiliser the nerve poison could have been made inside the UK itself. So which is it: in or outside the UK.? In the last instance the explanation for how it entered the UK is the absolute whopper I’m waiting for.

      Reply
      1. Quentin

        I add: one way or the other there can only be questions of negligence, incompetence, failure on the part of the state to protect its inhabitants from such harm: chemical weapons are not just available for the asking on the streets of London; border guards, police, intelligence agencies, etc. have failed. Who is responsible? This reminds me of those Saudis who somehow learned how to fly aircraft into high buildings and succeeded in doing so. How did they do it? Who failed in their duty to prevent the crime?

        Reply
        1. fajensen

          chemical weapons are not just available for the asking on the streets of London

          Uh. Yes they are.

          Fentanyl (cancer painkiller) and the much more toxic Carfentanil (Elephant tranquilliser) are sold on the street by drug pushers. Carfentanil in particular has a lower LD 50 than VX!

          Reply
    4. Mel

      the disbelief is fueled by an adversary

      Which adversary yet to be announced. Time for this again, I guess. Now is the Age of Advertising. There’s a major adversarial component (Caveat emptor) in ordinary business, and some ad-smarts are necessary for self preservation.

      Peter Drucker:

      Indeed the danger of total propaganda is not that the propaganda will be believed. The danger is that nothing will be believed and that every communication becomes suspect. In the end, no communication is being received. Everything anyone says is considered a demand and is resisted, resented, and in effect not heard at all. The end results of total propaganda are not fanatics, but cynics–but this, of course, may be even greater and more dangerous corruption.
      Management – Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices by Peter Drucker

      Hannah Arendt has said something similar, he might have picked up the idea from her.

      Patrick Armstrong argues that just trying to argue this story on some kind of merits, as we’re doing here, is some kind of mistake.

      Reply
      1. templar555510

        Good comment Mel. Can’t disagree with Drucker here. Arendt called her book on Eichmann ‘ The Banality of Evil ‘ . As Jordan Peterson said recently she might have more profitably called it ‘ The Evil of Banality ‘ which is pretty much where we are now with the ‘ News ‘ and so simply attempting to analyse any part of this particular story rather than accepting just the ‘ known , knowns ‘ is a waste of energy .

        Reply
    5. Stephen Gardner

      The analysis of this case does not revolve around expert opinion on chemical warfare. The only people who have the chemical evidence are the British government. And they have proven quite unreliable in the past. Furthermore, one need no expertise in CW to know that the western allies have lied before, probably will lie again and to know that Putin does nothing in a rash manner. That’s why I believe the Russian government and disbelieve the British government. It has nothing to do with CW. Sadly for the west, Putin has been the adult in the room all along. His actions in Syria were measured and made perfect sense. The west, however, decided repeat the mistakes of Afghanistan in the 80s and support the very guys who brought jihad to the west. Our leadership has failed us and the world. Putin is doing the right thing in Syria and that’s why the west is trying to blame him for everything with the possible exception of the Lindbergh kidnapping. It is disturbing to me that we are so tribal that people here in the west can’t see that.

      Reply
    6. pretzelattack

      we don’t even know what the stuff is, absent independent testing. as i understand it the british government hasn’t made samples available despite being required to do so.

      Reply
  15. David (1)

    Hats off to the people at Porton Down.
    I can imagine how much pressure was applied to influence their decision.
    Thankfully, they were braver than people like Colin Powell.

    Reply
    1. Sid Finster

      I am sure that they are getting quite a talking to as we speak.

      Expect them to magically reverse their position so that WWIII can proceed apace.

      Reply
  16. The Rev Kev

    “And any developments of such geopolitical importance wind up having economic effects.” I’ll say! In 51 weeks May and her government are going to be grasping for any ally that they can find while fending off all those wanting to put the boot in. Russia may have been willing to provide a few loans or deliveries of LPG gas on credit but I would say that bridge has been well and truly burned. May and Johnson essentially used flamethrowers on it. Maybe then they can take note of Saudi Arabia and gather up any remaining Russian oligarchs, stick them in the Mayfair, and hang them upside down until they cough a few billion up for Her Majest’s Treasury.
    Look, the whole fiasco was bogus from start to finish. Boris Johnson is now lying his face off by saying that he never actually said that the Russians did it (he did) and May is backtracking as the Salisbury attack is now coming under international scrutiny. I would like to see if I cannot place the whole thing into some sort of context. May fingered the Russians from the get-go and the usual suspects all signed up for her accusations. Dare I say it, as if there was some sort of coordination behind the scenes. Trump not only ran with it, he jumped into a Humvee and then floored it. Treaties and diplomatic practices have been ignored or trashed on both sides of the Atlantic so I am wondering what was the benefit that hoped to be gained.
    There is the disruption of the upcoming FIFA games (as happened with the Olympics) but that would only be a side benefit. It may be that the west wants to occupy eastern Ukraine with a UN force (NATO in disguise) and this effort would have helped neutralize the Russians. It may be to distract the Russians from Syrian but that is coming to a close. What I do wonder is something that has been brought up several items and that a “reform” of the UN Security Council has been suggested. Either Russia would be kicked out or perhaps there would be a majority rule introduced to neutralize both China and Russia here. If Russia was under international suspicion, it may have helped give the impetus for this “reform” to be carried out. Maybe not a compelling theory but you do not organize an international effort on this scale without some major benefit in mind.

    Reply
    1. Quentin

      You gave me a good laugh: ‘neutralise both China and Russia’ on the Security Council by introducing a majority rule. Maybe that will end up neutralising the US, the UK and some other bigwigs instead? No we’re supposed to buy into the prejudice that things only go wrong at the UN because of Russia and China? I’m doing my best to maintain a semblance of sanity and I’m failing badly.

      Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        No, my idea is that both Russia and China block many votes that would give legal cover to illegal actions in the UN that it is a hindrance to the west. Libya is an example when the west gets what it wants by lying to both countries what a Resolution is all about. Remember the number of times that the west wanted to put Syria on the hit list because they “gassed their own people” and bomb the Syrian Army? Ask Nikki Haley how she feels about Russia in the UN Security Council. Most of those that sit on the UN Security Council are either western countries or vassal countries, hence a desire for a majority vote instead of having to have all members agree to an action.

        Reply
  17. Tinky

    I’d say that Dmitry Orlov covered the topic well, and soon after the ludicrous charges were being bellowed by the U.S. and U.K. governments.

    Here is just one point that he made, a point that should, on its own, raise extremely serious doubt about Russian government involvement:

    Then there is the question of timing. Russia’s presidential elections will take place in just a few days, on March 18. This is a particularly inopportune time to cause an international scandal. What possible urgency could there have been behind killing a pardoned former spy who no longer possessed any up-to-date intelligence, was living quietly in retirement, and at that moment was busy having lunch with his daughter? If the Russian government were involved in the poisoning, what possible reason could have been given for not waiting until after the election?

    You can read the rest here:

    http://cluborlov.blogspot.pt/2018/03/false-flags-for-newbies.html

    Reply
    1. Andrew Watts

      Unlike Orlov I can believe that Russia is behind this incident. When the Romanovs were Czars and still in charge it wasn’t a good idea to talk smack about or cross Mother Russia. But I’m pretty sure that if Putin ordered somebody killed that they’d already be dead. The fact that British spies have been acting like a crazy ex-lover ever since Brexit leads me to think it isn’t Putin. It isn’t hard to imagine that the Brits would leave a dead animal on somebody’s porch, or a park bench, with the way they’ve acted.

      Steele didn’t write his dossier and start interfering in the US presidential election until Brexit occurred. For all the media hysteria on this side of the pond about foreign influence during our election they blithely ignore the fact that Steele wasn’t alone and another “former” British spook from GCHQ involved himself in our domestic politics. They haven’t attempted this kind of operation in the US since WWII when they attempted to smear Adolf Berle and torpedo Henry Wallace’s political career / presidential campaign as far as I know.

      On the other hand, their “willing handmaidens” in the US intelligence community are receiving a taste of their just deserts. How many of them openly fantasized about murdering Snowden?

      Reply
  18. tc

    Y’all are kinda running with a narrative thats presented from talking heads. Sad! Its doesnt matter if its X mg, or door handles or someone said this or that or wave an agreement signed before cocktails.

    The real issue is that someone has this stuff near a major city, is walking/driving around with it, and knows how to deploy it safely against a target who is security conscious. And no one is sure who it is or how much of it they have. So, quarantining a likely suspect makes a lot of sense – you can always say ooppss, sorry Boris. But in the meantime, senior leadership has to be terrified (as we all should be too) and given a lot of leeway to figure this out.

    Reply
    1. integer

      But in the meantime, senior leadership has to be terrified (as we all should be too) and given a lot of leeway to figure this out.

      Unless senior leadership are responsible for what happened, or they gave their blessings, explicit or otherwise, to those who carried out the deed.

      Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I see you don’t follow this site. We are not “running a narrative”. Go check our New Cold War section in Links We’ve been regularly featuring articles from people who were skeptical of the “Putin done it” claims from the get go, when that was a very much a minority view.

      Reply
    3. Stephen Gardner

      No one except the British government has the evidence of a) what the substance was b) how it got there and c) how sick the Skripals really are. Note that they have not been allowed visits from their government nor have they been allowed to be interviewed or even pictured in the press. Anyone who believes the British government even one iota is very gullible indeed. Naivete in great abundance here. Assuming that when Blair left the lies left with him. Wow! Just wow!

      Reply
    4. fajensen

      But in the meantime, senior leadership has to be terrified (as we all should be too) and given a lot of leeway to figure this out.
      There exists a well-defined international process for figuring out attacks with chemical weapons, one would assume this was instated with calm and forethought so in times of stress, the process can be trusted to work.

      What would make sense would be to start that process; unfortunately, the current British leadership is (I.M.O.) too incompetent and too far out of their depths over the assured Brexit fiasco to do that, so they go for the easy way, with half-truths, lies and propaganda, hoping to curry some favours from a – by know – pretty jaded EU.

      Had they gone for the process, even while at the same time pointed some fingers at Russia, I’d have thought that the whole case would have been more credible than now, where the British refuse every other option than then one of blaming Russia (not even questioning the quality of the process or something that explains why it cannot be used). When one appears concerned over what evidence may be found … one does not exactly appear like a trustworthy person.

      Reply
  19. Graham

    Amongst all the learned posturing about “who done it” there are some much simpler questions that need to be asked, and answered.

    The UK lab states that the nerve agent was from the Novichuk “family”. Irrespective of which nerve agent it was, how did it end up in a UK city, who brought it there, and how did an ex Russian spy, his daughter and a British Police Officer end up in hospital having come in to contact with said compound???

    Novichuk is not available in B&Q or Homebase (DIY stores for non-UK readers) It is a military grade nerve agent and not something than be cooked up in the average terrorist kitchen, and is quite likely to kill whoever is handling it, let alone the target.

    In the 70’s I spent time in the British Army in W Germany running around in my “noddy suit” (NBC protective clothing which we hoped would work!!) in anticipation of the Warsaw Pact putting in to effect its threat to be at the Channel ports within 5 days of any conflict starting. We knew that Chemical and Biological weapons were likely to be used by Warsaw Pact troops to contaminate our supply depots, and the Soviets knew that NATO would probably use tactical nuclear weapons to stop the enemy tank armies. The chemical weapons would probably arrive by artillery shells, but the downside to using such weapons is that once used, the threat of death is the same for both sides.

    There was a previous killing of an ex-Soviet spy in London using Polonium. The availability of polonium is about the same as laying your hands on a nerve agent IE, State Players Only.

    The targets were the same, ex Soviet citizens who had been spying for the other side, and caught and expelled from Russia. As the UK had given citizenship and refuge to the ex spies, one has to ask who would be interested in killing them in vengeance?

    Given that there are very few sources for Novichuk, and its use as targeted on a former Russian spy living in a very pleasent British Cathedral city, the conclusions are very limited.

    Reply
    1. pretzelattack

      we dont even know what was used, so how can we say “there are few sources” for it? that means we don’t know who used whatever it was, we certainly can’t conclude it was the russians.

      Reply
      1. Graham

        Because the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom made a statement to Parliament stating that the agent concerned came from the Novichuk family.

        If you don’t believe the UK PM then perhaps you might understand why many in the UK and Europe also do not believe the statements made by the President of Russia and the Russian Government.

        The attempted murder of a British Citizen and his Russian daughter and a British Police Officer is a very serious matter, but for a Prime Minister to lie to Parliament is a resignation matter, and possibly cause for a General Election. Politicians lie much of the time or are “economical with the truth” but you cannot deliberately lie to Parliament and expect to survive!

        Reply
        1. pretzelattack

          yeah the president of the us made statements about saddam wmd’s, and so did the prime minister of the uk. and yet, both survived and prospered. i don’t believe politicians’s statements, i believe evidence. so far, no convincing evidence has been provided.

          Reply
        2. Sid_finster

          Lying to Parliament is allowed, admirable even, in pursuit of the “right” objective.

          Witness T. Blair.

          Reply
        3. fajensen

          but you cannot deliberately lie to Parliament and expect to survive!
          I do belive Tony Bliar survives quite well on his appanage. /sarc

          The “deliberately” part is too easily fixed by getting a government official to write your lies into an official statement on the issue. Once found out, one can claim to have been misinformed, launch an investigation into the matter and then let that quietly die without reaching any formal conclusions. The “Sir Humprey’s” helps with that too.

          Of course there are many that for good reasons do not believe one word of the Russian President and the Russian Government – but – “we” should be better than “them”.

          I’d argue that we are in this mess beacause we are not really that good people either. Not after Iraq. Guantánamo. Certainly not after Libya and Syria.

          It’s about par at the present, I’d say – and then it comes down to a beauty-contest on who looks to be the more competent leadership. Boris and May will not triumph here, to be gentle about it.


          There are many more people that based on a realistic threat evaluation regarding their personal job security, wealth and general well-being have very good reasons indeed to fear the actions of their own government more than Russia’s, because bad as Russia may be, Russia doesn’t care about them and have no authority over them.

          And, That sorry state of affairs is (IMO) producing a crisis in confidence in Western Democracy (and the rise in Jihaddism and the Fascist Right within Europe, but, that’s another story).

          Reply
    2. David

      There have been suggestions that these were binary agents, similar to those developed by the US in the 1980s, which consist of two agents which are only lethal when mixed together. If they were brought into the UK, then they would have been safe to carry and not aroused suspicion. In any case, in years of travel into and out of the UK I have never seen anything resembling a CW detector. Mixing them together would have been a different issue, of course

      Reply
      1. Graham

        I was due to mix up some binary agents in the morning to repair a ding in my bumper. The two part epoxy resin will hopefully not decimate the neighbourhood, and I will try not to get it on my hands (sic!!)

        Reply
  20. Synoia

    The time line looks suspect. I read the man and his daughter left their hone in the morning and collapsed at 5pm.

    VX kills quickly.

    The time line suggestes a poison ingested and activated in the gut by digestion.

    Reply
  21. Susan the other

    I’m skeptical of international rules against nerve agents. Clearly something administered by someone made the Skirpals deathly ill. Little story: When I was 20 the military screwed up a test of nerve agent at Dugway Proving Grounds. It was carried by the wind beyond its test range and killed a large herd of sheep. Dead as rocks. So two years ago when that very hearty band of Central Asian antelope, the Saiga, were all found mysteriously dead – all of them – and the incident was determined to have been caused by some fungus or virus, I was more than a little suspicious. Close to that time there were teams of western researchers looking at the Aral Sea and how to bring it back to life since it is currently a veritable toxic waste dump, now an almost dry sea bed and the toxins are blown around capriciously by the wind. People conducting research there were Americans. No doubt some Brits as well. And now the Skirpals? Sorry to connect such estranged dots. Just thinkin.

    Reply
    1. Graham

      In 1942 the British Government tested what the effect of anthrax would be if used in WW2 on a small Scottish island. The island is still uninhabited and anthrax spores can still be found.

      Chemical warfare was used in WW1 with devastating effect on the troops concerned, hence the concerns in WW2 and later that an enemy might use them again. So devastating and unpredictable are things like poison gas that neither side used them in WW2, but the threat or possibility of its use had a considerable effect on the UK civilian population who all had to carry gas masks at all times.

      It is the possibility of an enemy using Chemical and Biological weapons which causes fear in a population, far beyond the effects of it actually being used.

      The UK became used to the threat of IRA bombings on the mainland and the population coped with that and persevered, but as the PM stated to Parliament, the Salisbury incident was the first time that someone had deployed a nerve agent on UK soil, and that is the question that must be answered. Who manufactured and/or released the nerve agent to someone to deploy against a UK target who was a former Russian spy who had worked for the UK. This was not a random attack on the Underground or Parliament, but a targeted attack on a single family, and this is not the first time a former Russian spy has been killed in the UK using a means only available to a State Player.

      Reply
        1. Graham

          I would have thought that authority to deploy a nerve agent on foreign soil, especially against a NATO nuclear power, would have to be given at Presidential/Prime Minister level in any government. Given the paranoia of such weapons falling in to the wrong hands, the politicians are not likely to delegate use authority outside their office.

          The US doctrine is that Chemical and Biological weapons are no different than Nuclear weapons and the response will be the same. This is because the US destroyed their stockpiles of chemical and bio weapons.

          Reply
          1. Tinky

            That is not entirely true (bold emphasis mine):

            The United States declared a large chemical arsenal of 27,770 metric tons to the OPCW after the CWC came into force in 1997. Along with Russia, the United States received an extension when it was unable to complete destruction of its chemical stockpiles by 2012. A 2016 OPCW report declared that the United States had destroyed approximately 90 percent of the chemical weapons stockpile it had declared as the CWC entered into force; nearly 25,000 metric tons of the declared total of 27,770. The United States has destroyed all of Category 2 and Category 3 weapons and is projected to complete destruction of its Category 1 weapons by 2023;.

            source: https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/cbwprolif

            Reply
          2. nervos belli

            Novichok poisons were used by a non-state player in the 90s. It killed a banker and his secretary in Moscow. Either by a business rival or personal matter apparently. The russian police back then questioned all the scientists who were in the Novichok program.
            So what you write is patently untrue, historically and of course on its face. Someone in Porton Down, in Iran, in the US, Uzbekistan or of course Russia (probably more but those we at least know of) could get their hands on it for their own ends. Even if it’s just something as simple as to sell it for cold hard cash to some “friend”.

            Please remember the anthrax scare in the US in the early 2000s: those were US made spores but we can assume not even evil mastermind Cheney would have done this. Compared to Cheney, Putin should be sainted or just given a Nobel.

            Reply
      1. David

        Actually, CW has generally been pretty ineffective militarily, and counter-measures were quickly developed in WW1. There are no proven examples of it having influenced the outcome of a major engagement in the 20th century, with the possible exception of one point in the Iran/Iraq War in the 1980s. It’s subject to all sorts of problems of weather, wind direction etc. In the Cold War, the Soviets planned to use absolutely enormous quantities of it (thousands of tonnes) but essentially as a nuisance, to force NATO troops to fight in NBC suits, rather than in the expectation of causing enormous casualties. As you say, the main effect of CW is fear, and we’ve certainly had that.

        Reply
        1. Third Time Lucky

          It was extremely effective, even in primitive form, in WWI, that’s why it was banned* from war (but not on civilians/civil war) afterward. Bad for MIC business.

          *still didn’t stop Churchill, Mussolini, Truman.

          Reply
          1. David

            Sorry, it caused a lot of fear when it was first used, but counter-measures were developed very quickly. Covering your face with a urine-soaked cloth was as effective as anything. CW was considered inhuman, which is why there were measures to ban it, and it’s potential effectiveness was massively overestimated in the 1930s. It was fear of the potential effects, rather than actual experience, which was important.

            Reply
            1. Graham

              There would have been an ample supply of urine soaked cloth if the “gas, gas, gas” alarm turned out to be for real!!

              Reply
  22. Sid Finster

    “Conclusive Evidence…is Lacking” makes the UK government’s case sound stronger than it is, as if all that were needed were a few more pieces of the puzzle to fit and this thing would be air tight.

    Rather, as John Laurits has pointed out, the UK government has not presented ANY evidence other than their say-so.

    Reply
      1. Graham

        There is a considerable difference between who authorised such an operation, and the people who actually carried out the attack.

        You need one man or woman, probably the HOS, to authorise a nerve agent attack on the soil of a NATO nuclear armed power.

        You would probably need 5 people to actually carry out the attack on the ground and the actual nerve agent could have come in to the UK in a Diplomatic Bag. The actual on-site team could be from the security service of the country who authorised the attack and who probably supplied the nerve agent, or the actual on-site team could have been from a third party country who have friendly relations with those wanting the attack carried out.

        I seem to remember that the Bulgarians have form in doing sub-contract killings with an umbrella!!

        Reply
        1. nervos belli

          There is no sub contract killing by bulgarians. The one killed back then was a bulgarian dissident, attacking the bulgarian government or rather their elite persons back then and killed by bulgarians for bulgarian reasons.
          Yes, the KGB delivered the weapon, but as people wrote before: whenever someone now kills with a gun, we blame the chinese, not the gunman. After all, they invented gunpowder.

          I think this idea has great potential. China needs to be put in its place anyways.

          Reply
  23. Tobin Paz

    As an observer on this out of control train called humanity, I stand in awe of the collective gullibility of Western societies. This is same country and media that was complicit in the Iraq war…

    Tony Blair ‘Could Face War Crime Charges’ As Result of Iraq Inquiry

    Former UK prime minister Tony Blair could face war crimes charges as a result of the long-anticipated Chilcot report into the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a Liberal Democrat peer told the House of Lords on Tuesday.

    The BBC And Iraq: Myth and Reality

    The second-worst case of denying access to anti-war voices was ABC in the United States, which allowed them a mere 7 per cent of its overall coverage. The worst case was the BBC, which gave just 2 per cent of its coverage to opposition views – views that represented those of the majority of the British people.

    … Libyan war …

    U.K. Parliament report details how NATO’s 2011 war in Libya was based on lies

    “Libya: Examination of intervention and collapse and the UK’s future policy options,” an investigation by the House of Commons’ bipartisan Foreign Affairs Committee, strongly condemns the U.K.’s role in the war, which toppled the government of Libya’s leader Muammar Qaddafi and plunged the North African country into chaos.

    The Top Ten Myths in the War Against Libya

    By June 10, Cherif Bassiouni, who is leading a UN rights inquiry into the situation in Libya, suggested that the Viagra and mass rape claim was part of a “massive hysteria”.

    The BBC went on to add another layer just a few days after Bassiouni humiliated the ICC and the media: the BBC now claimed that rape victims in Libya faced “honour killings”. This is news to the few Libyans I know, who never heard of honour killings in their country.

    … and the savage assault on Syria:

    EXCLUSIVE: Britain drops 3,400 bombs in Syria and Iraq – and says no civilians killed

    The vast quantities of ordnance dropped since the start of Operation Shader against IS in 2014 seriously undermines the claim by ministers that the RAF has not caused any civilian casualties in the three-year-long bombing campaign, and has prompted calls for an investigation.

    BBC Panorama team embedded with Islamic State partner group

    Scenes in the 2013 BBC Panorama special Saving Syria’s Children reveal that the award-winning team of reporter Ian Pannell and cameraman Darren Conway OBE were embedded with jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham which, according to Human Rights Watch, had three weeks earlier worked alongside Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as one of “the key fundraisers, organizers, planners, and executors” of an attack in which at least 190 civilians were killed and over 200 – “the vast majority women and children” – were kidnapped.

    All these interventions are violations of international law and war crimes.

    IF the British intelligence services were involved in the Skripal case they have quite the wicked sense of humor… why on earth would Putin in the midst of an international demonization campaign and on the eve of Russian elections and World Cup attempt to kill a Russian ex-spy with a Russian nerve agent eight years after being released?

    Reply
    1. jsn

      Putin was obviously trying to ingratiate himself to Theresa May by drawing attention away from her capitulation on Brexit, and to Robert Mueller by drawing attention away from the fact that his Trump investigation is based on BS possibly about to be outed by the no longer talking Skripal.

      There has been no real information provided at all, why should any of this be believed at all? It’s all one world threatening, “look at that over there!!!” distraction.

      Your links to prior deceptions are an excellent frame through which to view the whole kerfuffle.

      Reply
    2. David

      I’m not unsympathetic, but let’s not overstate it. The first is just grandstanding which has no legal basis. The second is bad behaviour by the BBC but is by no stretch of the imagination a crime, the third is true but there’s no actual crime involved, the rape myth is despicable but it’s not a crime to spread it, the fourth is not proof of anything and ignores the fact that the law of war recognises it is not possible to avoid non-combatant deaths altogether, and the last, whilst showing questionable judgement by the BBC wouldn’t be a crime committed by their journalists even if it were true.
      No matter how unlikely the idea that the Russian government was responsible may appear , “British governments and the BBC have done or said bad things in the past” is not an argument in this case. There are better ones.

      Reply
      1. nervos belli

        The attack against Libya by UK and France was a war crime, any way you slice it.
        The handling of the UN resolution about a no fly zone for Libya was a further war crime or international crime.
        The attack by Britain on Iraq was a clear war crime.

        We live thankfully in a post Nuremberg world. Unless it’s a “Nuremberg only applies to losers”. That one you have to decide for yourself.

        Reply
        1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

          Yes the law only applies to losers as opposed to the winners as in Libor rate rigging, sanction busting, money laundering bankers & the like, unless as in the cases of Madoff & the Shrek guy you are foolish enough to rob the wealthy.

          As David states in the eyes of the law none of examples above from foreign interventionism are crimes in the legal sense. They are merely examples of moral bankruptcy which it appears to me at least is nowadays one of the qualities required in order to become a winner or to at least hang on to one’s rice bowl. It is sad that success is apparently measured by comparison to those who at least in my opinion, appear to consist mainly of dead fish eyed slaves to power & unsatiable appetite.

          Reply
          1. pretzelattack

            why wasn’t the invasion a war crime? have bush and cheney visiting switzerland recently? nobody is going to prosecute them for it, since the us is still the dominant military power, but doesn’t mean they didn’t commit a crime.

            Reply
            1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

              It was a crime in my view, but in terms of the law in which David was judging the events nobody was prosecuted, as the law is only for the losers like Saddam Hussein, Milosevich etc. I was perhaps rather clumsily attempting to make the point that the law is the winning elites ass, & those who serve their interests, also gain a certain amount of absolution from what I would describe as variations of immorality.

              Reply
      2. pretzelattack

        what do you mean it has no legal basis. the invasion of iraq was a war crime, and blair facilitated it. aggressive war is not legal under the un charter.

        Reply
  24. JustSaying

    cui bono?

    who benefits from stirring up trouble between EU/NATO and Russia?

    Don’t be surprised if it’s a small country actor.

    Reply
  25. The Rev Kev

    France seems to be getting a free pass in the news about the Salisbury investigations. Just why exactly did the British need to call in the French in the first place? What knowledge did they have that the British did not have at their chemical warfare establishment just up the road from Salisbury? I know that they were involved in declaring Sarin to be identified going by the sample as supplied by the Jihadists from Syria from a chemical attack. Did that ‘expertise’ help them to be qualified in identifying the sources of chemical attacks? The Russians were certainly interested to know-
    https://eadaily.com/en/news/2018/04/01/russian-embassy-sends-questions-on-skripal-case-to-french-foreign-ministry

    Reply
  26. vlade

    Here’s something if you want a really convoluted reason for Putin.

    In 2016, Czechs held a Russian national on US internatial arrest warrant for hacking (Linkedin etc.). There was speculations that he was also closely involved with the Russian government, and that US wants him really to get better info on the Russian cyber-warfare abilities etc.

    – US asked for extradition, and literally day afterwards (or maybe just hours later, I can’t remember), Russian govt asked for extradition as well, on what looks very much like a proxy-charge (stealing a few hundred dollars worth of stuff from e-shop). I say looks very much like proxy charge, because the alleged crime in Russia happened in 2009 and the guy lived happily in Russia between 2009 and 2016 without anyone giving a damn.

    – Putin himself lobbied CZ president for getting the guy extradited to Russia

    – CZ president (who for all terms and purposes is in pocket of a couple of Czech oligarchs with very close ties to Russia and China) has then lobbied hard for the guy to be released to Russia, for years now

    I.e. a massive interest & pressure from top levels to get the guy into Russia not US seems to indicate that there’s something the guy knows Russia government doesn’t want to get US its hands on.

    Now, I have no idea what it is or indeed whether anything is there in the first place. But in last six-weeks/month it became more or less clear that once the formal challenges to the extradiction were over, it was more then likely the guy would end up in the US.

    So, now the convoluted reason – Putin wanted to send a message to this guy that talking to US is going to be really really bad for his health. The message had to be very loud and clear, hence the way it was delivered. Russia was well aware of the potential consequences, but what is in the hacker’s brain is even more dangerous to it.

    Do I believe the above? your guess ;)

    Reply
  27. Plenue

    I don’t think I’ve seen anyone other than b, of Moon of Alabama, and Jimmy Dore, point out the really obvious problem that a military nerve agent, supposedly 5-10x more deadly than the already fantastically lethal VX (10 milligrams of which on exposed skin can kill within minutes), has completely failed to kill three people. At least one of them is already recovering. Whatever they were poisoned with, it sure as hell wasn’t a military nerve agent.

    It’s like someone said the stupidest, most vapid and obviously fake false flags and fraudulent accusations have all already been done, and the May government said “hold my beer”. More than anything this entire case is just…stupid.

    Reply

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