The actions of the British government in response to the alleged poisoning of a British double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter is damaging Britain's credibility and international standing.
The British government has so far given no evidence that the Skripals were poisoned at all, or may have been poisoned by a third party. No detailed medical bulletin has been published and yet they have persisted in making outrageous claims.
There has been no independent evaluation of the alleged poison. The British government claims that its own chemical weapon laboratory at Porton Down, only a few kilometres from where the incident happened, has identified the poison as one of the “Novichok” chemicals.
But in 2016 a leading chemist at Porton Down published a piece in a scientific journal that denied that such chemicals existed, as Craig Murray pointed out.
The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Murray, says the story is another “WMD scam”. In a blog post, he wrote: “The same people who assured you Saddam Hussein had WMDs now assure you Russian ‘Novichok’ nerve agents are being wielded by Vladimir Putin to attack people on British soil.”
As recently as 2016 Dr Robin Black, Head of the Detection Laboratory at the UK’s only chemical weapons facility at Porton Down, a former colleague of Dr David Kelly, published in an extremely prestigious scientific journal that the evidence for the existence of Novichoks was scant and their composition unknown.
In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published. (Black, 2016)
Robin Black. (2016) Development, Historical Use and Properties of Chemical Warfare Agents. Royal Society of Chemistry
Furthermore, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has not recognized Novichoks as chemical weapons because it found scant evidence that they exist at all. The US and the UK are both part of the organization and have both agreed with this evaluation:
The OPCW’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) appeared to doubt the existence of “Novichoks”, and did not advise that the compounds described by Mirzayanov, or their precursors, should be designated as Scheduled Chemicals that should be controlled under the Chemical Weapons Convention: [The SAB] emphasised that the definition of toxic chemicals in the Convention would cover all potential candidate chemicals that might be utilised as chemical weapons. Regarding new toxic chemicals not listed in the Annex on Chemicals but which may nevertheless pose a risk to the Convention, the SAB makes reference to “Novichoks”. The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The SAB states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of “Novichoks”. (OPCW, 2013)
The former Soviet scientist, Vil Mirzanjaov, who “blew the whistle” on “Novichoks” now lives in a $1 million home in the United States. The AFP news agency interviewed him at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, this week and he admitted that anyone and not only Russia, could have used the formulas to make such a weapon, since the formulas were published in his book freely available on Amazon.
Mirzanjaov had earlier pointed out that only experienced chemists in well-equipped laboratories would be able to use his formulas. Only state actors have such laboratories, while terrorists do not.
He had wanted the substances he described to be included into the OPCW list of controlled material, but the OPCW had rejected that. Neither its scientific board nor the head of a Porton Down laboratory were convinced that these substances or the Soviet program Mirzanjaov described existed at all.
Anti-Putin Russian oligarchs have meanwhile always been welcomed in London’s financial circles because of their extraordinary wealth. According to recent reports in the London Times and Daily Telegraph, the Conservative Party received donations of £820,000 from such Russian sources. Chancellor Philip Hammond even refused to return the money when it was discovered.
Séamus Martin, a former Irish Times Moscow correspondent, says moreover there have been highly suspicious activities on Skripal’s part. It has been reported in the Daily Telegraph that Skripal was close to an unnamed person in the organisation run by Christopher Steele, who produced the dossier claiming Russia had compromising material on Donald Trump. The Clinton campaign had paid for the Steele dossier to get “dirt” on Trump and perhaps Skripal knew too much about the Clinton Foundation’s involvement, which Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano called a “criminal enterpise” this week.
In September of 1993 as The Irish Times Moscow correspondent, Martin obtained a list of chemical and biological weapons, including “Novichok”, that were being produced by Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union. He brought these documents to the recognised expert at the time Dr Thomas Stock of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
“Dr Stock’s reaction was that Russia immediately needed western financial help to stop Novichok and other chemical and biological agents being exported illegally by criminal elements. Western help arrived eventually but was it too late,” Martin said.
Alexander Mercouris, a pundit for The Duran, said the package of diplomatic sanctions announced by the UK have done no more than expose the weakness of Britain’s hand. “In truth the British were reckless and foolish to enter into a confrontation on the flimsiest of evidence against Russia, a country far more powerful than themselves,” Mercouris noted.
“Since Russia is by far the more powerful country, it is the British who need to maintain a strong diplomatic presence in Moscow to retain relevance,” he said.
In a response to the UK’s Ofcom threatening to strip Russian broadcaster RT of its broadcasting licence, Maria Zakharova said all British media outlets could be kicked out of Russia. Her reaction has had a chilling effect, with the British media apparently now furiously lobbying the British government against doing it.
Theresa May announced other measures too which do not specifically target Russia but ordinary British citizens. According to the Guardian, the government will enact a new detention powers not only limited to suspected terrorists, as well as look into new counter-espionage powers.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned on Wednesday that New York City could be the next site of a chemical assassination attempt if world leaders fail to punish Russia, in an effort to stoke up expectations of stern action against Russia to stratospheric levels.
“If we don’t take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used,” Haley told the United Nations Security Council. “They could be used here in New York, or in cities of any country that sits on this Council. This is a defining moment.”
The meeting that May demanded with NATO on the case, has resulted in an extremely weak response. NATO did not support the claims May made, nor did it take any measures against Russia.
French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux on Wednesday told Reuters: “We don’t do fantasy politics. Once the elements are proven, then the time will come for decisions to be made.”