Moon of Alabama — March 12, 2018
Today the British government made some dubious assertions about Saddam’s chemical weapons the poisoning of its double agent Sergej Skripal.
- Sergej Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.
- The nerve agent was part of a group of agents known as ‘Novichok’.
- Russia has previously produced the agent and would still be capable of doing so.
- Russia has a record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations.
- The British government assesses that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets.
- The British government concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergej and Yulia Skripal.
May went on to claim that:
- This was either a direct act by the Russian State against the United Kingdom or
- the Russian government lost control of the nerve agent and let it fall into the hands of others.
I find all of the above claims not only dubious but laughable. Here are some facts:
Novichok, ‘newcomers’ in English, are a zoo of chemical warfare agents that were developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s. Some of the ‘newcomers’ are said to be highly toxic.
The existence of these chemical agents was disclosed in 1992. Russia joined the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction in 1997. It has since (unlike the U.S.) destroyed all leftover stocks from the Soviet Union’s chemical weapon program. It does not produce chemical weapons.
These agents and their formulas are not an exclusively Russian knowledge or product:
One of the key manufacturing sites was the Soviet State Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT) in Nukus, Uzbekistan. Small, experimental batches of the weapons may have been tested on the nearby Ustyurt plateau. It may also have been tested in a research centre in Krasnoarmeysk near Moscow. Since its independence in 1991, Uzbekistan has been working 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.
The formulas for the various Novichok agents are not a Russian secret. The U.S. and the UK surely know how to make these. The agents are said to be made from simple components used in civil industrial processes. (To qualify any agent as “military grade” is by the way nonsense. Many chemical agents used in the civil process are also incredibly deadly.) The Porton Down chemical weapon laboratory of the British military is only some 8 miles away from Salisbury where the Skripals were allegedly poisoned. The British government claims that Porton Down identified the agent allegedly used on the Skripals. The laboratory is surely also capable of producing such stuff, just like similar laboratories in other countries are able to do.
Now lets counter May’s claims:
- Novichok agents are claimed to be up to 10 times as toxic as VX. One drop of VX can kill a person. If the Skripals were poisoned with such an highly effective agent how come they are still alive?
- The Soviet Union, not Russia, developed such agents. The main work was done in Uzbekistan.
- Russia is likely able to reproduce such agents but so are many, many other countries.
- What is Russia’s “record of state-sponsored assassinations”? One British investigation which claimed that “Russia” was somehow involved in the death of MI6 agent Litvinenko is highly dubious. I am not aware of any other cases. There is a long-standing protocol to never bother spies that have been exchanged in a spy-swap.
- If Russia sees “some defectors” as legitimate targets why does it not immediately kill them? Skripal was living openly in the UK since 2010. Why would Russia kill him at all and why now?
Given the above, it is absurd to conclude that it is “highly likely” that Russia was responsible.
The real likeliness for that is just as high as the likeliness that Saddam could hit the UK with a chemical weapon missile within 45 minutes. That was a fraudulent claim another British government once made.
May’s claims today are just as believable as all the nonsense Tony Blair said about Saddam or as the show U.S. Secretary of State Powell delivered in front of the UN Security Council.
More likely is probably an involvement of Skripal in the Steele dossier and the CIA/MI6 operation against Donald Trump. Was he assailed because he threatened to talk about that?