A cold day in Salisbury

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May, Corbyn, Putin, Salisbury and The OPCW.

In recent days we have seen the horrifying and downright disgusting use of a “military grade” nerve agent. A nerve agent that is reportedly 10 times stronger than that of VX. The target of this nerve agent a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The unintended target, a British police officer, Sergeant Nick Bailey. All 3 remain in critical conditions, isolated in hospital.

Immediately, given the nature of this incident, fingers started pointing at the Russian government, due to the Kremlin having form in this area. Namely Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned in 2006 after drinking tea laced with Polonium 210.

Sergei Skripal

Sergei a former Russian spy who in 2004 was arrested by the FSB, convicted and imprisoned for high treason after being caught working for MI6. In 2010 he was swapped as part of a “cold war arrangement” for British spy Anna Chapman after she had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an unlawful agent of a foreign government, was sent to Russia along with ten others. Russia in return released 4 double agents who had been leaking information to MI6. Including Sergei Skripal, who was pardoned by the then Russian President Dmitri Medvedev.

The attack in Salisbury which targeted Sergei and his daughter, reportedly was by use of a nerve agent known as “Novichok”. A nerve agent that was reportedly produced by Russia during the 1970s and 80s. Although in 2013 the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons(OPCW) said they could not confirm its existence, as there was insufficient evidence to confirm the production of these agents and/or properties of them. Both Russia and the United Kingdom are signatories to this organisation and are both on record in supporting its findings and praising its work in the destruction of chemical weapons systems.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

In October 2017, the OPCW reported after 5 years of work with the Russian government at a ceremony in The Hague that the Russian government had destroyed all of its chemical weapons stockpiles held across 7 sites in the country.

https://www.opcw.org/news/article/opcw-marks-completion-of-destruction-of-russian-chemical-weapons-stockpile/

OPCW Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, acknowledged the remarkable achievement by the Russian Federation and presented a memorable certificate to Deputy Minister Kalamanov marking the full destruction of the 39,967 metric tons of Russian chemical weapons. He also gave a commemorative plate to General Viktor Kholstov to recognise his personal commitment to and efforts in achieving this milestone.

The OPCW’s inspection teams have verified the destruction at seven chemical weapons destruction facilities in the Russian Federation. On 27 September 2017, the last of these facilities, located in Kizner, officially concluded its operations.

With the total elimination of Russia’s declared chemical weapons programme, 96.3 per cent of all chemical weapon stockpiles declared by possessor States have been destroyed under OPCW verification.

This was the result of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into force in 1997. The convention required all members to destroy their chemical weapons stockpile.

Porton Down

Porton Down, a research facility that is steeped in history and has a somewhat chequered past over the course of the last century,

  • 1999: Wiltshire Police begin a four-year investigation into the human experiments at Porton Down nearly 50 years earlier
  • 2008: MoD awards £3m compensation to 360 veterans of the tests without admission of liability

Porton Down, still produces nerve agents and receives a £500million per year budget from the British government. Set in 7000 acres of English countryside, it employs more than 3000 scientists and is probably Britain’s most secure location. Only two years ago a BBC documentary was filmed on site where it showed VX being manufactured. The official line of the facility is the agents are produced for testing purposes, to improve the defence of British soldiers and civilians.

VX is the shorthand for “venomous agent x” and is a nerve agent in its own right. In its pure form it is colourless and odorless. Porton Down invented VX in 1952.

“Novichok” is a binary agent meaning it must have two separate elements combined for it to be weaponised and used as a nerve agent. Porton Down research facility or the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory produces nerve agents for testing purposes officially to improve the defense systems of British soldiers and civilians. Its past however is mired in controversy, with known testing of chemical agents on British citizens and soldiers. Air dispersals over British cities and on the underground system in London. The “Novichok” agent will have definitely been replicated by the scientists at Porton Down. How else will they have been so quickly able to identify this “rare” nerve agent? “Novichok” literally translates as newcomer and is designed to be undetectable in its binary form.

 

Under the CWC, Britain has only destroyed its general stocks.

May the Statesman.

In the immediate aftermath, Prime Minster Theresa May, has been very quick to point the finger of blame at the Russian Federation. Saying “Mr Speaker, on Monday I set out that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with Novichok: a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia.

Based on this capability, combined with their record of conducting state sponsored assassinations – including against former intelligence officers whom they regard as legitimate targets – the UK government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act.

And there were only two plausible explanations.

Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country.

Or conceivably, the Russian government could have lost control of a military-grade nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

She gave the Kremlin 48 hours to respond to her statement.

This goes against paragraph 2 of Article 9 of the CWC which requires a requested response to the accusations no later than 10 days after the receipt of request. This is international law of which both Britain and Russia are signatories.

There is no doubt that a chemical based nerve agent has been used on British soil that is not in question.

The question I pose is “How does this benefit Russia?”

Why would a government that had its intended target imprisoned for 6 years, then pardoned and then released to Britain wait a full 14 years to attempt to assassinate him, in broad daylight with a nerve agent that can reportedly bectraced straight back to Russia. Why would they carry out the alleged attempt after working with OPCW to destroy and confirm the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile? Why wait until their country will be hosting the biggest sporting event in the world and showcasing themselves to billions of people around the world? Why wait until one week before the Russian Presidential elections commence? I see no gain and only loss. It stands to no logical reason for Russia to have carried out this attack. They would be seen as pariahs on the world stage.

Obviously as I write this I am not party to the “evidence” that the UK authorities supposedly have.

Yes, this could have been an attack which was ordered by the Kremlin, using either undeclared stockpiles or agents that had been smuggled in, in their binary form and held on UK soil for years until weaponised and used as Novichok.

The Russian Response.

Statement by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the OPCW, Ambassador Alexander Shulgin, at the 87th session of the OPCW Executive Council on the chemical incident in Salisbury, The Hague, March 13, 2018

“Mr Chairperson,

In connection with the vicious attacks launched by British officials in London, as well as the statement by the head of the British delegation to the OPCW with regard to Russia concerning the suspicious story of two persons poisoned with a toxic agent in Salisbury, we would like to state the following.

The British authorities’ unfounded accusations of Russia’s alleged involvement in using poisonous agents on their territory are absolutely unacceptable. Our British colleagues should recall that Russia and the United Kingdom are members of the OPCW which is one of the most successful and effective disarmament and non-proliferation mechanisms. We call upon them to abandon the language of ultimatums and threats and return to the legal framework of the chemical convention, which makes it possible to resolve this kind of situation.

If London does have serious reasons to suspect Russia of violating the CWC – and the statement read by distinguished Ambassador Peter Wilson indicates directly that this is so – we suggest that Britain immediately avail itself of the procedures provided for by paragraph 2 of Article 9 of the CWC. They make it possible, on a bilateral basis, to officially contact us for clarifications regarding any issues that raise doubts or concerns.

We would also like to emphasise that such clarifications under the Convention are provided to the requesting member state as soon as possible, but in any case no later than 10 days following receipt of the request. As such, the ultimatum’s demand that information be provided immediately, by the end of today, is absolutely unacceptable.

Our British colleagues should save their propaganda, fervour and slogans for their unenlightened domestic audience, where perhaps they will have some effect. Here, within the walls of a specialised international organisation, such as the OPCW, one must use facts and nothing but the facts. Stop fomenting hysteria, go ahead and officially formalise your request to begin consultations with us in order to clarify the situation. A fair warning, we will require material evidence of the alleged Russian trace in this high-profile case. Britain’s allegations that they have everything, and their world-famous scientists have irrefutable data, but they will not give us anything, will not be taken into account. For us, this will mean that London has nothing substantial to show, and all its loud accusations are nothing but fiction and another instance of the dirty information war being waged on Russia. Sooner or later, they will have to be held accountable for their lies.

In addition, in this particular case, it would be legitimate for the British side to seek assistance from the OPCW Technical Secretariat in conducting an independent laboratory analysis of the available samples that allegedly show traces of nerve agents in Salisbury”

Theresa May responded to this by expelling 23 of 58 known Russian spies and/or diplomats from Britain. Giving them one week to leave the country and return to Russia.

Jeremy Corbyn’s response to May’s statement.

“The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence, which we condemn in the strongest terms.

Nerve agents are abominable if used in war. It is utterly reckless for them to be used in a civilian environment.

The Prime Minister said on Monday and again today that Russia was either directly responsible or it was culpable because it lost control of this nerve agent.

The Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence and our response must be both decisive and proportionate.

The attack in Britain has concerned our allies in the European Union, NATO and in the United Nations, and their words of solidarity have strengthened our position diplomatically.

We have a duty to speak out against the abuse of human rights by Putin’s Government and its support, both at home and abroad, and pay tribute to the many campaigners in Russia for human rights. And we must do more to address the dangers posed by the Russian state’s relationship with unofficial mafia-like groups and corrupt oligarchs.

We need to expose the flows of ill-gotten cash between the Russian state and billionaires who became stupendously rich by looting their country and subsequently using London to protect their wealth. We welcome the Prime Minister’s clear commitment today to support the Magnitsky amendments to sanction human rights abusers, as we have long been calling for.

Britain should build an international consensus to strengthen the chemical weapons convention, and ensure that such a horrific attack never happens again.”

Jeremy Corbyn’s statement has been echoed by that of the French President Emmanuel Macron’s spokesman stating “We don’t do fantasy politics. Once the elements are proven then the time will come for decisions to be made,” Benjamin Griveaux told a news conference in Paris.

He added France was waiting for “definitive conclusions” and evidence that the “facts were completely true” before taking a position. He said that the Salisbury poisoning was a “serious act” against a strategic ally, but France would await evidence of Russian involvement before taking a position.

So rather than jumping to conclusions based merely on circumstantial evidence. Should we not be working with our partners at the OPCW and uphold our obligations under international law? Should we hold off on beating the drums of war before all the facts are fully obtained and understood? Yes the response to this heinous act should be completely proportionate and decisive, but it should also be based upon 100% incontrovertible proof, not on rumour or circumstance. If we as a country hold the findings of the OPCW as gospel when relating to Syria and others where chemical weapons have been used, should we also apply that same principle to our own country?

Mays run to blame Russia without incontrovertible evidence, shows her lack of leadership and wisdom and places her in the deep end of the swimming pool, out of her depth and without a flotation aid. Yes if Russia is proven by OPCW to have carried out this attack then they need to be internationally condemned and brought to book over it. But international law needs to be respected not just by the accused but by the accuser as well and at the moment based on the rules and findings of the OPCW the only one doing so in this instance, is Russia.

We shall probably never know the full truth of what happened in Salisbury, but one thing is for sure. Theresa May is trying to have her Falklands moment without thinking of the consequences before she acts and that is a very dangerous position to take .

 

 

 

 

 

 

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