Salisbury poisoning: One year on, still no evidence of Novichok nerve agent use disclosed to public

On March 4, 2018, former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were ‘poisoned by a nerve agent’ in Salisbury, UK. Many details do not match up and what happened in reality remains a mystery (though we all know the villain, thanks).

It was on March 4, 2018 that the Skripals were admitted to a hospital in Salisbury. Within days, British Prime Minister Theresa May would claim they had been poisoned by a nerve agent called “novichok” and that it was “highly likely” the Russian government was behind the hit.

A war of words, sanctions and diplomatic expulsions followed, with relations between London and Moscow at their worst since the Cold War, and maybe worse than that. There has been no shortage of often fanciful theories emanating from UK officialdom and NATO-backed “open-source detectives” such as Bellingcat, but none have taken the world closer to knowing what actually happened.

Skripal saga, one year on: What is still shrouded in mystery

Official narrative: Russia did it!

Right from the start, the UK government, friendly media, and its NATO allies starting with the US, latched onto the alleged (more on that shortly) poisoning as the work of Russian intelligence. The “novichok” nerve agent, they said, was only made by Russia. No one else could have possibly done it. By September, the official narrative was that two military intelligence (GRU) officers had flown in directly from Moscow, allegedly left traces of the poison in their hotel room, and were caught on CCTV cameras in Salisbury on March 4. They supposedly poisoned the Skripals by smearing the nerve agent on the doorknob of their home.

Also on rt.com ‘Highly likely’ motto: West goes on offensive against Russia for Skripal poisoning https://cdni.rt.com/files/2018.03/thumbnail/5aabe285dda4c897348b459a.jpg");">

There is just one tiny problem with it all: None of it makes sense, given the evidence actually available to the public. Nor was any other evidence provided to the Russian government.

London peddles lies, Moscow says

Both the Kremlin and the Russian Foreign Ministry categorically denied that Russia had anything to do with the events in Salisbury. In April, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the alleged poisoning was a “false-flag incident…beneficial for, or perhaps organized by, the British intelligence services in order to mar Russia and its political leadership.”

Also on rt.com UK accusation of Russians in Skripal case ‘cocktail of lies’ timed with Idlib false flag op – Moscow...

Moscow’s envoy to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Alexander Shulgin listed eight major lies in the official UK story in April.

British media have produced some 100 theories on what exactly happened in Salisbury, widely citing various anonymous leaks – but no real evidence has been brought up, Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko told RT in September, “The major argument of the British government that only Russia is capable of producing this kind of poison is simply not correct,” he said.

Russia repeatedly said that it was willing to assist in the investigation, if Britain were to follow the rules on how such things are done. Instead, all Russian requests were stonewalled by London as it was rallying allies to punish Russia for what had happened.

So what is ‘novichok’?

The deadly nerve agent was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s under a program called Foliant and dubbed “novichok” (newcomer). It’s formula and manufacturing process has been known to weapon experts in the West for decades, including from people involved in its invention, who moved outside of Russia after the USSR collapsed.

Czech President Milos Zeman also debunked the UK claim that only Russia made novichok, saying in May that his country had also made a small batch and destroyed it. This should have blown the UK accusations right out of the water, but London simply shifted the narrative, saying that it was confirmed the novichok came from Russia. It wasn't and, according to OPCW, cannot be traced to its origin due to high purity of the poison.

Skeptics of the official UK narrative pointed out that the chief British chemical and bioweapons laboratory is just a few miles down the road in Porton Down.

Also on rt.com Keep calm & blame Russia: RT’s story of inconvenient facts surrounding Skripal saga (VIDEO)...

No one has offered a coherent explanation of how the fast-acting deadly nerve agent, supposedly sprayed onto Skripal’s doorknob in the morning, caused him and his daughter to pass out many hours later, did not kill either of them, and did not harm anyone else.

What happened to the Skripals?

Sergei Skripal was a former Soviet and Russian intelligence officer, arrested in 2004 and convicted of high treason for spying for the West. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, but was released in 2010 and sent to the UK as part of a spy swap. He was settled in Salisbury.

British authorities said both Sergei and his daughter Yulia – a Russian citizen who came to visit her father – had survived the attack, and were eventually released from hospital. Sergei has not appeared in public. Yulia issued one public statement through the British police, and appeared in a strange television interview with Reuters in May, asking for no Russian officials or family to contact her.

Russian diplomats were never given access to their citizens. The embassy in London described Yulia’s statement as suspicious and possibly not genuine. Her cousin Viktoria thought the same, and tried to get a visa to visit the Skripals in the UK. She was denied.

From that point, the Skripals vanished. Their relatives have heard not a peep, and there were even rumors they had been relocated to the US and been given new identities.

Also on rt.com Double agent Skripal & daughter have ‘not spoken to family in Russia since poisoning’ – niece to RT...

The Amesbury twist

On July 4, British police reported that a local couple was poisoned in Amesbury, a town in Wiltshire not far from Salisbury. Charlie Rowley, 45, recovered. His partner, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess, died in the hospital.

Sturgess and Rowley reportedly fell ill after finding a bottle of Nina Ricci perfume in a waste bin. The perfume, which was still in the wrapper, was supposedly laced with novichok. The question remains how the bottle ended up there (still deadly, four months later). The UK police later said they were unable to confirm whether the novichok nerve agent to which the couple were exposed in Amesbury was from the same batch used to poison the Skripals in Salisbury. The plot thickened.

The unlikely first responders

Early reports of the Skripal “poisoning” mentioned “an off-duty nurse who had worked on the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone” providing first aid to the pair after they were found unconscious on a bench in the public park. It wasn’t until months later that she turned out to be none other than Colonel Alison McCourt, currently the chief nursing officer in the British Army. Her 16-year-old daughter Abigail assisted with first aid, and was put up for an award. Despite not having any protective gear, neither of the McCourts suffered any symptoms from what was supposedly one of the deadliest nerve agents going.

Also on rt.com First responder in Skripal poisoning turns out to be Britain’s most senior military nurse...

Despite spending over £10 million ($13.2 million) on the probe into the Salisbury and Amesbury cases, the UK government had produced little or no evidence to the public of the “highly likely Russia” hypothesis by August.

The curious case of Petrov & Boshirov

As more and more information put pressure on the official narrative, the intrepid Atlantic Council-backed “open-source” sleuths at Bellingcat pounced on the case, finding two Russians who were in Salisbury on March 4, naming them as suspects and accusing them of being GRU.

Putin responded by saying that both men were civilians, and called on them to appear in public. So they did, giving an interview to RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan on September 13. They insisted they were just friends, civilians, tourists who went to Salisbury to visit the famous cathedral, and denied having any connection to the perfume bottle.

Former Scotland Yard detective Charles Shoebridge was skeptical the duo would be spies, telling RT they had “absolutely left what seems to be a very reckless and clear trail of evidence, which almost seems to be designed, or at least would almost inevitably lead to the conclusions that the police and the authorities have come to today.” That is, pointing to Russia.

Bellingcat’s rabbit hole

Meanwhile, the “detectives” at Bellingcat were not satisfied with “identifying” Petrov and Boshirov. They set out to prove the men were actually super-secret Russian spies.

Boshirov, they claimed in late September, was really highly decorated commando Colonel Anatoly Chepiga, and Petrov was likewise a distinguished military physician Aleksandr Mishkin. Not stopping there, they also claimed the Russian security services had pressured the UK to issue visas to spies, and even that there was a “third suspect,” one Sergey Fedotov, who might have also been involved in Brexit somehow.

Sanctions first, proof later

British allies in Europe and across the Atlantic did not wait for evidence to act against Moscow. They quickly expelled over 150 Russian diplomats, including from the mission to the UN.

In late March, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the US was satisfied to take Britain’s word for what happened in Salisbury. Washington later also imposed drastic sanctions against Russia, accusing it of “chemicals weapons use.”

In January 2019, British authorities informed the Skripals’ neighbors in Salisbury they would be demolishing the former spy’s house, effectively destroying the crime scene without providing a shred of evidence to Russia.

Integrity Initiative

Bellingcat’s “research” was tirelessly promoted by journalists and activists who ended up being exposed in November as agents of the “Integrity Initiative,” a shadowy group working for the government-funded Institute for Statecraft. The documents unmasking the II and IFS were posted online by hackers claiming to be part of the anarchist collective Anonymous, and the “network of networks” found itself under scrutiny for smearing UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as a Kremlin stooge – ostensibly as part of its noble crusade against anti-Russian disinformation.

One of the documents was the “narrative” of the Skripal affair blaming Russia for it, and reflecting entirely the official story as put forth by the government and presented in the media. Another document showed the group was advocating harsh measures against Russia as early as 2015, hoping for an incident that it could use as a trigger.

The clash of geopolitics and vested interests has done little to shed light on what actually happened to the Skripals.

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Double agent Skripal & daughter have ‘not spoken to family in Russia since poisoning’ – niece to RT

Sergey and Yulia Skripal, the victims of a high-profile poisoning attack in Britain, have not contacted their family in Russia since the attack in March last year, the double agent’s niece told RT.

Viktoria Skripal, Sergey’s niece and Yulia’s cousin, believes that the British authorities may be covering up Sergey’s death. The official narrative is that both he and Yulia survived the poisoning attack, but unlike her, Sergey was never shown alive. Yulia showed up for a single brief carefully orchestrated interview with Reuters in May.

According to Viktoria, the family members living in Russia, including Sergey’s elderly mother, have not heard from either of them since before the attack. Viktoria believes this to be suspicious.

Sergey is a family man, very attached to family members and a responsible person. He called his 91-year-old mother every week. After what happened in March, those calls stopped.

The British authorities say the former double agent and his daughter were targeted by the Russian intelligence in a failed assassination plot – an accusation that Moscow denies.

Also on rt.com Skripal’s Salisbury home to be partly dismantled by British military...

According to a recent report in The Telegraph newspaper, the pair is trying to get their lives back together.

“Far from being cut off entirely from her former life, Yulia has remained in touch with certain close friends who refuse to divulge a shred of information about her. A few, both British and Russian, are understood to have visited her in the summer,” the newspaper said.

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Putin compares Khashoggi case to Skripal poisoning, asks why Russia condemned despite lack of proof

Russian President Vladimir Putin has contrasted the world’s response to the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi with its response to the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal, citing lack of proof in both cases.

Speaking at the annual Valdai Discussion Club in Sochi, Putin said that despite a lack of evidence proving Russian involvement in the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March, punitive actions were immediately taken against Moscow. In contrast, he said, that did not happen with Riyadh following Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“There’s no proof in regards to Russia, but steps are taken. Here, people say that a murder happened in Istanbul, but no steps are taken. People need to figure out a single approach to these kinds of problems,” Putin said.

Khashoggi, a journalist who wrote columns that were critical of the Saudi kingdom for the Washington Post, disappeared on October 2 when he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain documents for his planned marriage to a Turkish citizen.

Despite Turkish authorities pinning the blame for Khashoggi’s alleged murder on Riyadh – claiming to have video and audio proof to back it up – the US has been reluctant to point the finger at the Saudis. US President Donald Trump even floated the theory that perhaps “rogue killers” were responsible for the journalist’s disappearance. No such alternative explanations were offered following the Skripals’ poisoning.

Asked whether Moscow would respond to the Khashoggi disappearance, Putin said Russia still did not have enough details to take any action. “Why do we need to take some steps towards the deterioration of our relations if we don’t understand what is happening? But if someone understands and someone believes that the murder occurred, then I hope that some evidence will be provided,” he said.

Trump has been accused by numerous analysts, journalists and politicians of advocating for Riyadh in order to protect the US’ financially beneficial relationship with the Gulf nation. Many have cited Trump’s business ties with Saudis dating back decades.

Trump & Saudi Business: •1991: Sold yacht to Saudi Prince •2001: Sold 45th floor of Trump World Tower to Saudis •Jun 2015: I love the Saudis...many in Trump Tower •Aug 2015: "They buy apartments from me...Spend $40M-$50M" •2017: Saudi lobbyists spent $270K at Trump DC hotel

On the day that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Riyadh to discuss the Khashoggi case, $100 million was transferred to the State Department by Saudi Arabia – part of a long-planned contribution to help stabilize newly liberated regions of Syria. The US, however, denied that the timing of the transfer had anything to do with the diplomatic incident over Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Turkish sources have leaked information to the press, including details from an alleged recording made of Khashoggi’s murder, during which Saudi forensics expert Saleh al-Tubaiqi allegedly dismembered the journalist’s body while his colleagues listened to music.

Saudi Arabia has denied claims of involvement. Trump has cast doubt over the existence of the tape, and said he plans to have a discussion with Pompeo following his fact-finding trip to Riyadh and Istanbul earlier this week.

READ MORE: ‘Sawed while still alive’? Gruesome ‘taped’ details of Khashoggi’s alleged murder cause media stir

When the Skripals were poisoned in the English town of Salisbury in March, British intelligence agencies swiftly accused the Kremlin of being responsible and sanctions were slapped on Moscow. British Prime Minister Theresa May led a chorus of international condemnation, expelling 23 Russian diplomats from the country and convincing the US and a slew of European countries to follow suit.

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UK Poisonings Leave Soviet Defector's Family In Fear

London: The family of a Soviet defector who died in Salisbury in 2001 is living in fear following the recent poisoning of a Russian ex-spy in the same English city, according to his son.

Nikita Pasechnik, whose scientist father Vladimir Pasechnik defected to Britain in 1989 and suffered a stroke 12 years later, said his relatives are now "scared to death".

"Every normal person would fear," Nikita Pasechnik told AFP in a recent interview in the southwest English county of Dorset where he lives, blaming the death on Russian security services.

Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury in March with the Soviet-made Novichok nerve agent. They spent weeks recovering in hospital.

Britain has blamed the attempted assassination on Moscow, which has denied involvement.

Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old English woman who also came into contact with the toxin along with her surviving partner Charlie Rowley in nearby Amesbury, died on July 8 and was cremated this week.

"Even here in the UK I don't feel safe -- that was one of their goals with Skripal," Pasechnik said.

"These two cases are different but the similarity between them is that I believe they killed my father.

"They poisoned him and they poisoned Skripal," he alleged.

Pasechnik, an IT specialist, wants his father's death 17 years ago probed.

But other relatives worry it could make them targets.

"My family don't want to be exposed. They're scared to death," the 53-year-old father said.

'Very unusual'

Vladimir Pasechnik was a senior biologist who fled the Soviet Union as the Cold War was ending and exposed its vast clandestine programme adapting germs and viruses for military use.

He defected in Paris and settled near Salisbury, working at a public health microbiological research centre at Porton Down, where the British military also has research facilities.

His family joined him in stages through the 1990s.

In November 2001, aged 64, he was hospitalised after suffering a stroke and died within weeks.

Local authorities ruled his death was from natural causes, and no inquest or criminal investigation was launched.

But Pasechnik said the doctors who treated him said they could not pinpoint its cause and the stroke was more widespread than normal.

"There were many clots simultaneously," he said. "Basically two-thirds of the brain was affected and the doctor said 'It's very unusual.... It is strange.'"

Vladimir Pasechnik had voiced concerns he would be targeted, according to his son.

He remembers his father referring to Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov, who was poisoned in London in 1978 using an umbrella.

The son's suspicions grew following the 2006 poisoning death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, also in the British capital.

The British government in March vowed to re-examine 14 Russia-related deaths on UK soil following claims of possible Kremlin or mafia involvement.

Vladimir Pasechnik's case is not among them.

- Game changer -
After defecting, Vladimir Pasechnik revealed a vast network of Soviet biological weapons laboratories.

It led the West to confront Moscow with the evidence and forced unprecedented inspections of its facilities.

"His defection was one the most important in modern history... it completely changed the game," a Western source familiar with the case told AFP.

"I was quite surprised," he said of learning of his death. "He wasn't that old, but on the other hand strokes are relatively common."

The source added: "I am sure that the Russians were extremely upset that he was the whistleblower on their illegal BW (bio-weapons) programme of course."

Both the Russian embassy in London and the foreign ministry in Moscow recently referred to Vladimir Pasechnik amid ongoing recriminations against British authorities over the Skripal case, saying he had died "mysteriously".

"The fact that his son is not satisfied with official conclusions regarding his death is an ample illustration thereof," a spokesperson for the embassy told AFP.

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Skripals poisoning ‘highly likely’ staged by British intelligence – Russian Foreign Ministry

The UK’s behavior after the Skripal incident suggests that the attack was organized by the British spy agencies or was at least beneficial for them, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has said.

“It was highly likely that the false-flag incident with the poisoning of the Russian citizens in Salisbury was beneficial for, or perhaps organized by, the British intelligence services in order to mar Russia and its political leadership,” Zakharova told a news conference in Moscow on Thursday, markedly using the same phrase regarding probability as London officials and their allies.

 
A destroyed street in Douma in Eastern Ghouta on April 16, 2018 © Louai Beshara

Such a false-flag operation would perfectly fit into the “general Russophobe course of the [UK] Conservative government to demonize our country,” the spokeswoman stated, adding that the UK has “frequently committed such acts in the past.”

The “National Defense Strategy of the UK and the banquet speech of PM Theresa May at the end of last year,” also contribute to such version of events, according to Zakharova. The document and May’s speech have clearly envisioned “countering Russia” as one of the main priorities for the UK.

London’s actions in the aftermath of the attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4 in the town of Sailsbury have raised many questions in Moscow. Russia says the UK did everything possible to disrupt the investigation and conceal facts, while squarely pinning the blame on Moscow. Russia has vehemently denied the allegations and repeatedly urged the UK to show some proof, or at least make information on the incident publicly available.

“The firm refusal to cooperate with Russia on the Salisbury poisoning investigation, London’s violations of the consular convention, reluctance to cooperate with the OPCW and concealment of the basic data to conduct a transparent investigation are the shining proofs of that,” Zakharova concluded.

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