British PM says “highly likely” Russia is behind spy poisoning

13 March 2018

British PM says “highly likely” Russia is behind spy poisoning

Britsh Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday (local time) it is “highly likely” Russia is responsible for the nerve agent attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England.

In an address to the British Parliament, Ms May said either the Russian Government was directly responsible or it had allowed the military-grade nerve agent used in the attack to fall into the hands of others.

The Russian Ambassador to the UK has been given until the end of Tuesday to respond to the allegations.

Prime Minister May said analysis of the substance by experts revealed it is part of the Novichok group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.

“Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” she said, adding that the attack was a “reckless and despicable act”.

Speaking to Russia’s НТВ (NTV), Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova replied to Ms May’s comments by saying: “This is a circus show in the British Parliament. The conclusion is obvious: [this is] another information and political campaign based on provocation.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States has “full confidence” in Britain’s assessment that Russia was responsible, according to Reuters.

“We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences,” he said.

NATO has also weighed in with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg calling the use of any nerve agent  “horrendous and completely unacceptable” and saying “this incident is of great concern to NATO”.

Traces of the substance has been found at a number of locations in Salisbury including a restaurant and a pub, but health officials are confident there is no risk to the public.

Opinion: We shouldn’t jump the gun

Since the story broke, its direction has been fairly obvious. A former Russian spy and his daughter are attacked with a nerve agent in his country of refuge — the story writes itself and it appears that all roads lead to Russia. But do they?

For the casual observer, of course Russia is the prime suspect. After all, Sergei Skripal did betray dozens of his colleagues as well as his country. Due to the deeply patriotic nature of Russians, I have no doubt that many believe he got what was coming. But there are flaws in this line of thinking.

Skripal was arrested in Russia in 2004 after it was found he had been working for MI6 since the 1990s. He was sentenced in 2006 to 13 years in prison. Skripal was then granted refuge in Britain during a prisoner exchange in 2010 under former Russian President Dimitry Medvedev. If the Russian Government had wanted him dead, it would have been organised during the six years he was detained.

Bearing that in mind, the timing and location of the attack are incredibly inconvenient. Voting for the 2018 Russian Presidential Election starts next week, and the last thing the Russian Government needs is to be caught up in another geopolitical scandal; not to mention the logistics of such an operation on foreign soil – especially a country as vigilant with its national security as Britain – would be very complicated.

But what about the nerve agent? Well, identifying the nerve agent and the fact that it was developed by the Soviet military means next to nothing. Firstly, people from all over the former Soviet Union would have worked on such projects which means that secret nerve agent is probably not all that secret. Also, this is a substance that was in development well over 40 years ago — it is simply naive to think that similar or identical nerve agents have not been developed since then.

It should be mentioned that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov offered to assist the British Government in the investigation shortly after the attack happened.

The reality is, it is unclear who is responsible for the attack. I am not ruling out Russia, but it seems a little premature to pointing the finger at them when there are so many variables. I cannot speak from experience, but as I understand spying is a dangerous business. It requires networking with a range of characters, many of which we can assume are not squeaky-clean, law-abiding citizens. And as for double agents, I can only imagine the risk involved in the job is also doubled. No doubt there are some spies who do not feel warmly toward Skripal either.

We need to ask simple questions. Why would the Russian Government exchange a prisoner it wanted to kill? What would be the point of killing Skripal when he had no more state secrets to give and had not had access to state secrets for at least 14 years? And why would the Russian Government be so careless as to use a toxic substance that supposedly only it has access to, and cannot be contained to the target?