14 March 2018Opinion
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?