Spy’s poisoning is latest case to stir suspicion of Russia

Introduction — March 11, 2018

Forensic investigations at the scene of the crime in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Click to enlarge

Forensic investigations at the scene of the crime in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Click to enlarge

No hard evidence has yet been discovered linking the apparent poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal with the Russian government but that hasn’t stopped the corporate media.
There has been endless, and as yet entirely unsubstantiated, media speculation about Russian involvement. The wall-to-wall UK media coverage is uncomfortably reminiscent of the media’s treatment of an earlier story: Saddam Hussein’s notorious Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Readers will no doubt recall the endless media speculation about that: such extensive coverage that it almost became an automatic assumption on the part of many. Yet it all turned out to be entirely groundless.
However groundless, those reports did serve to shape the public’s perception and ultimately pave the way for military intervention in Iraq.
Although I’m not saying that this story is being used to make the case for war with Russia, at least not yet, it is being used in a similar manner. And given the steady build-up of NATO forces in eastern Europe, often within sight of Russia’s borders, one cannot rule out the possibility that a military confrontation will ultimately result.
Is speculation about nefarious Russian undercover activity in Britain being used in a similar manner to earlier coverage of Saddam’s WMD?
Of course this doesn’t mean that Russia was not involved in Skripal’s poisoning. However, we need to keep an open mind and consider all possible options. Two scenarios spring to mind.
First, individual members of Russia’s intelligence service may indeed have been involved in the poisoning of a man they viewed as a “traitor”. Nonetheless, they may have been acting as individuals without any authorisation from Putin or senior commanders in Russian intelligence.
Alternatively, there is the possibility that the British secret service were actually behind Skripal’s poisoning. With the objective of placing the blame on Russia and framing Putin just as it once had Saddam.
This is not as outlandish as it may sound. Given that Porton Down, Britain’s chemical warfare laboratory, is conveniently located just a few miles outside the city of Salisbury where the poisoning occurred, it cannot be ruled out.
After all Britain tested chemical warfare agents on its own servicemen at Porton Down in the 1950s, resulting in their deaths. So is it beyond the bounds of possibility that they wouldn’t sacrifice an aging Russian defector in an effort to portray Putin as a ‘ruthless dictator’?    Ed.

Spy’s poisoning is latest case to stir suspicion of Russia

Associated Press — March 11, 2018

Members of the Falcon Squadron, Royal Tank Regiment, at Winterbourne Gunner, southern England, conducting final preparation and training before deploying in support of the civil authorities in Salisbury city centre, Friday March 9, 2018. British police asked the military on Friday to help investigate the nerve-agent poisoning of a former spy, as investigators' attention increasingly focused on the victim's house in a quiet suburban street. (Cpl Pete Brown/Ministry of Defence via AP). Click to enlarge

Members of the Falcon Squadron, Royal Tank Regiment, at Winterbourne Gunner, southern England, conducting final preparation and training before deploying in support of the civil authorities in Salisbury city centre, Friday March 9, 2018. British police asked the military on Friday to help investigate the nerve-agent poisoning of a former spy, as investigators’ attention increasingly focused on the victim’s house in a quiet suburban street. (Cpl Pete Brown/Ministry of Defence via AP). Click to enlarge

Britain offers wealthy Russians many attractions: London’s culture, bucolic countryside, exclusive schools, and a global financial hub. But for some former spies and foes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a move west has been lethal.

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of helping British agents and then freed in a spy swap, could become next in the disturbing pattern. Skripal, 66, and daughter, Yulia, 33, are in critical condition in England. British officials say they were exposed to a rare nerve agent.

Some lawmakers and a former top law enforcement official say the poisonings have hallmarks of deaths in the U.K. and the United States with links to Russia. They want an investigation to examine if enemies of the Russian government have been assassinated on British soil.

The deaths that have aroused suspicions include a man who was impaled on the spikes of an iron fence; a former Putin aide found in a Washington hotel room with blunt force injuries; and an ex-spy poisoned with radioactive tea.

British officials have not openly blamed the Russian government for the brazen assault on the Skripals in Salisbury. The father and daughter were found comatose on March 4 in the medieval city where Sergei Skripal had a home.

Author Joe Serio, who spent nearly 10 years with the anti-organized crime unit of Moscow’s police and wrote “Investigating the Russian Mafia,” said Britain is a popular destination for Russian émigrés because it’s “the gateway to the West, the seat of the language, the seat of the empire, the seat of major finance.”

None of that makes the country a perfect place to hide, though, Serio said.

“Russian leaders seem to go out of their way to get rid of anybody that seems to be in their way, someone who’s betrayed them, someone, who’s interrupting the money flow,” he said. “They just go wherever they have to go to get their guy.”

Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the U.K. Parliament committee that reviews police and intelligence matters, said a string of unexplained deaths must be re-examined in light of what happened to Skripal and his daughter.

Cooper cited a 2017 BuzzFeed News investigation of 14 deaths that may have involved foul play. One was Scot Young’s. He worked with Putin’s critics before his body was found impaled on railings outside his London apartment in 2014. Police treated it as an apparent suicide, although the coroner said the evidence was inconclusive.

Of all the deaths that have set off alarms, the slow poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko’s life is the best documented. Litvinenko, who had defected to Britain and publicly criticized Putin, died in November 2006, three weeks after drinking tea containing the radioactive isotope polonium-210.

While he wasted away on a hospital bed, the ex-spy blamed Putin. A decade later, a laborious public inquiry concluded he had been killed by Russia’s security service, “probably” with Putin’s approval.

Less clear is the 2013 death of Boris Berezovsky, an affluent Russian businessman who moved to Britain in the early 2000s and became an outspoken critic of Putin’s policies.

Berezovsky was found dead on a bathroom floor at his home in southern England with a scarf around his neck. The coroner concluded it was impossible to establish whether the oligarch was killed or committed suicide.

Doubts also have surrounded the demise of Alexander Perepilichny, a businessman who testified against Russian officials accused of stealing $230 million from a London hedge fund. He died in 2012 while jogging near his rented home.

Two autopsies proved inconclusive. Colleagues think Perepilichny was poisoned with a difficult-to-detect plant. A coroner’s inquest is underway, but no cause of death has been established.

In Washington, the District of Columbia’s chief medical examiner concluded that accidental injuries received during days of heavy drinking killed former Putin aide Mikhail Lesin. Officials never explained how Lesin got the blunt force injuries to his head and body.

The military-backed investigation of the Skripal case has transformed Salisbury into a major crime scene. Forensics tents enclose key sites such as the grave of Skripal’s son, who died last year, while police in hazardous materials gear search for clues.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has vowed to punish Russia if forensic evidence proves Kremlin involvement. But such proof could be hard to come by, Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House think tank, said.

“The Russians have been very good at covering their tracks,” he said. “And if you don’t have clear evidence, what’s the point of going into court?”

Meanwhile, a Russian state television anchorman has warned potential double agents they should expect a shortened lifespan in Britain.

“Alcoholism, drug addiction, stress and depression are inevitable professional illnesses of a traitor, resulting in heart attacks and even suicide,” anchorman Kirill Kleimenov said.

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