The Tories, the press and Labour right are all pushing an Anti-Russian agenda following the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury on 4 March. This is despite the lack of any clear motive or firm evidence. All those pushing the agenda have their own motives for trying to pin the blame on Russia. So let’s look at how credible the case against Russia is.
Skripal was a British spy who had defected from Russia and settled in the Wiltshire town after a spy swap.
Jeremy Corbyn has also come under fire because he didn’t join in with their warmongering rhetoric over Russia and because the Labour Right see it as an opportunity to bash him.
Jeremy Corbyn said Theresa May was “rushing ahead of evidence” and pointed out that “flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion”. How outrageous of him! Imagine a Leader of the Opposition, well, opposing!
One of the few considered media pieces on the case appeared in an article written by Séamus Martin in the Irish Times. It raises questions about the two scenarios Theresa May put to Parliament.
These were that:
1. The attack on former British-Russian spy Sergei Skripal may have been planned directly by the Kremlin or
2. that through lax scrutiny Russia allowed the nerve agent to fall into the wrong hands.
Planned by the Kremlin?
The Irish Times states: “Theresa May’s first scenario, that the Kremlin was directly involved, seems unlikely. Skripal was in the UK as part of an official spy-swap deal with Russia…For President Vladimir Putin to have launched such a vicious attack would have been counterproductive as it would jeopardise any spy swaps in the future.”
Third Way notes that no clear motive for Russia wanting Skripal dead has been put forward. Skripal was handed over to Britain by Russia in the first place. There is no strong evidence in his involvement in anything likely to upset Russia since then. George Galloway has pointed out the flaws as regards Russian motive too:
“…if the Russian state wanted to kill them, they could have killed them entirely inexpensively at any time. [Yulia Skripal] actually lives in Moscow, so if they wanted her dead, she could have been murdered in an alley with her scarf. [Sergei Skripal] could have been murdered in prison when he was jailed as a traitor to the Russian Federation — and he got a very light sentence.”
Third Way notes that the prosecution in the case against Skripal in Russia in 2006 argued only for a 15 year sentence and not the maximum 20 available under Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code (high treason in the form of espionage). They cited Skripal’s co-operation with their investigation. It’s also, perhaps, significant that the 13 year sentence was confirmed on appeal. All these facts don’t indicate that Russia wanted Skripal dead.
Novochok: Fallen into the wrong hands?
The second scenario is more complicated than is being presented in the British media. The line was being pushed that only Russia had this particular nerve agent. In fact as Séamus Martin points out in his Irish Times article: “The main production plant for Novichok was in Uzbekistan.” Interestingly, Uzbekistan has worked closely with the government of the United States to dismantle and decontaminate the sites where the Novichok agents and other chemical weapons were tested and developed.
Former Kremlin advisor has also, Alexander Nekrassov, rightly, pointed out that:
“the British government is saying that because the nerve agent is made in Russia and therefore Russia is behind the incident. I’m sorry but every laboratory in the West including Porton Down which is only 7 miles away from Salisbury, has a sample of this so called ‘Novichok’, Newcomer, as they called it.”
Séamus Martin also looked at who might have access to Novichok in his Irish Times article:
“In September of 1993 as The Irish Times Moscow correspondent I obtained a list of chemical and biological weapons, including Novichok, that were being produced by Russia as the successor state to the Soviet Union. I 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. The countries of the former Soviet Union, with the exception of the Baltic nations, were in chaos at the time.
There was money to be made in those days when inflation had reached 2,500 per cent in a single year. Those who became extremely rich by selling natural resources, military equipment or anything they could get their hands on became known as the Russian oligarchs, but not all the oligarchs were Russian.”
Russian organised crime, which has links with politicians and the spooks, could be responsible for Skripal’s poisoning. As Misha Glenny points out:
“What does seem to be the case is Skripal was involved in something.”
“I simply don’t buy the story that this is merely a revenge attack because it is a big deal if you were to take out a spy on British soil who was involved in a spy swap.”
Glenny, reports on Russia and organised crime and wrote the hit drama series McMafia.
George Galloway has also been a voice for commonsense on the issue. He compared May’s assertions to misleading intelligence reports that were created in the lead-up to the Iraq war (remember the ‘dodgy dossier’?). Lying “intelligence” manufactured by the US and UK claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The claim was used to justify the invasion.
“I have an absolute conviction that this is exactly the same kind of canard that led us to the disaster of the Iraq war,” Galloway said, before adding that “in any list of suspects, Russia must be near the bottom because, self-evidently, it has not and cannot benefit from this crime in any way.”
Galloway also spoke out against the deadline for Russia to respond set by May: “The reality is Russia has every right to be offended here. It is my view that the language of ultimatums and ‘you have 36 hours to say you’re guilty or kind of guilty’… was deliberately designed to fail. Russia was set up to fail this test that Theresa May set it.
“Just like Iraq and the WMD, this verdict has already been reached before this investigation ever began,” he said.