So the truth is finally out. Russia poisoned the ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil using the Russian-made nerve agent Novichok. The Russian ambassador to Britain has been given until the end of today to explain his country’s degree of guilt (not whether Russia is guilty or not, just how guilty it is) following which unspecified sanctions will be imposed. The BBC says so, so it must be true:
So that’s it then: case closed. Or is it? There are several things about this case which I find deeply troubling. Let’s start by looking at the facts, insofar as they can be established.
According to the BBC, “Colonel Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. He was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI as part of a swap. He was later flown to the UK.” Since then, he has lived in relative obscurity in Salisbury, England until last week when he was found in a critical condition on a bench outside a shopping centre, together with his daughter. They had just been to a nearby pub/restaurant, and traces of the Novichok poison were also found there, suggesting that it may have been administered there.
Some of these facts are disputed – for example, Skripal’s family say that he was not a double agent and that the allegations against him were fabricated. But let’s suppose that all of the above is true. Here are my problems with it:
Firstly, where is Russia’s motive for killing him? They had him in their custody between 2006-2010 and presumably, if they wanted to kill him, they could easily have done it then, and just made him disappear quietly, and few people would have known or cared. But they didn’t. So why wait until now, 8 years later, and attempt to kill him in the full glare of international publicity?
Secondly, why make the attack look exactly like a Russian assassination attempt, using a Russian made nerve agent? There are numerous other substances which could have been used. Cyanide is generically available throughout the world and is very effective: remember how Bosnian Croat war criminal Slobodan Praljak died after taking potassium cyanide in The Hague’s courtroom in November 2017? In fact, you could say that cyanide is more effective than Novichok because Praljak died whereas Skripal didn’t (yet). If the poison was administered in a restaurant, why not use mushrooms? Half of an Amanita phalloides (death cap) mushroom is generally fatal, and it could have been put down to an unfortunate accident in the kitchen.
Thirdly, why bungle it? Skripal didn’t die. If Russia’s intention was to kill him, but they didn’t manage it, that makes them look pretty stupid.
Fourthly, if the intention was to demonstrate Russian power on the world stage, why set up the attack to look as though it was Russia, and then deny it? Why not put a Russian bullet through his head then say “Yes, we did it, so what are you going to do about it?” Russia has consistently denied any involvement in the attack and said they will cooperate with the investigation.
I’m not saying that I know who did it, although I have a shortlist of suspects who might benefit from stirring up trouble between Russia and the West. I am however deeply uneasy that public opinion is being manipulated, although I’m not sure by whom and for what purpose. I am also very disappointed that the vast majority of people seem to be accepting the mainstream narrative, that Russia did it, without asking these basic questions.
Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin