Order the spring issue here

Major political lies about Russia?

What can politicians actually say for sure about the poisoning of Russian exaggerate Sergei Skripal and his daughter – and what unfortunate consequences is this matter about to have?

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

UK Prime Minister Theresa May told the British Parliament on 12. March, that Russian Colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia had been poisoned on the open street the 4. March in Salisbury, southern England, "with a military nerve poison of a type developed in Russia [and] known as" Novitsjok ". The substance has been identified at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) in Porton Down, Salisbury.

Prime Minister May said on the same day in parliament that Russia has previously executed defectors and that Russia is "very likely" to be responsible for the attack against Skripal and his daughter. The 14. In March, British expelled 23 Russian diplomats. The 26. In March, the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats, while several EU countries followed suit. In total, more than 130 Russian diplomats were expelled. Russia has responded by expelling the same number of diplomats, shutting down the US Consulate in St. Petersburg and expelling additional 50 British diplomats to settle on the same level as the United Kingdom.

This has led to a crisis in the West's relationship with Russia. Let's take a closer look at this:


Novitsjok is a collective term for several neurotoxins, which were developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. The word "Novitsjok" comes from the Russian defector Vil Mirzajanov, who moved to the United States in 1996. According to Vladimir Uglev, who was involved in developing these substances, they were called "A-1972", "B-1976", "C -1976 »,« D-1980 ». The program was called "Foliant". "Novitsjok" – which means "newcomer" – was not a word used in Russia, he says.

Mirzajanov was involved in counter-espionage, but he was not involved in the development of these substances. He didn't know anything about the details, Uglev claims. Novitsjok was described as more toxic than the American and British nerve poison VX. 10 milligrams of VX is said to be enough to kill a person. Mirzajanov says Novitsjok is up to ten times more potent. That means a gram of Novitsjok should be enough to kill 1000 people. It is agreed that the poison will kill a person within minutes. Mirzajanov published the Novitsjok formula in a book he published in 2008. He says this could allow the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to ban the substance, but he also warned in Washington to reveal the formula , when it could be used by terrorists.

If the substance could be bound to Russia, what did Russia have to gain from it?

Novitzhok, according to Mirzajanov, could be produced in private laboratories. Uglev's colleague Leonid Rink says he knows five people who left Russia and who have the preconditions for developing Novitsjok. According to Uglev and Rink, such nerve poisons can be produced in many countries. Iran will have developed and produced a type of Novitsjok in 2016 in cooperation with OPCW. Professor David Collum at Cornell University says these nerve poisons are relatively easy to produce. That only Russia should be able to produce Novitsjok is therefore absurd. In May 2018, Czech President Milos Zeman confirmed that Novitsjok was manufactured and tested in the Czech Republic. Debka File, which is close to Israeli intelligence, says that maybe 20 countries have the capacity to produce forms of Novitsjok. If we accept the claim that Skripal was poisoned by one type of this poison, it says little about who is responsible for the action.

US demolished plant

According to former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, these Soviet chemical weapons were manufactured primarily in Nukus in Uzbekistan – not in Russia. And according to The New York Times and the BBC, in 1999 the United States should have helped Uzbekistan demolish the plant at a cost of $ 6 million. Other states such as Ukraine may also have stocked Novitsjok. That would mean that the United States is "very likely" to have these nerve poisons. Since December 2015, the Americans will also have the patent for them as chemical weapons. Russia does not have the patent. The British should thereby be able to direct suspicion against the United States. According to Murray, the Porton Down laboratory was only willing to accept the phrase: "of a type developed in Russia" ("of a type developed by Russia"), and not an assertion of "a type produced in Russia". It is evident from the fact that the government applies this same phrase every time. Murray adds that penicillin was developed in Scotland, but that doesn't mean all antibiotics are Scottish. Or to speak in nerve poison terms: Kim Jong-un's brother Kim Jong-nam was poisoned at the airport in Malaysia by nerve poison VX, "of a type developed in" the United Kingdom. This has not led to an international boycott of the UK.

Porton Down chief Gary Aitkenhead told Sky News on April 3 that they had concluded that it was a nerve poison from the "Novitsjok family", but they could not say if it was produced in Russia. They had "not been able to identify the exact source". Novitshok is an extremely toxic substance and, based on what we know, there is no antidote to this poison, he said.

If "pure Novitsjok" had been found on the door handle of Sergei Skripal's house, he – according to Leonid Rink – would have been killed immediately.

It is in Porton Down (Salisbury), the UK defense holds the facility for nerve toxins. Aitkenhead would not comment directly on whether Porton Down has stock with Novitsjok, but the poison that poisoned Skripal may not have come from Porton Down, he said. "It is impossible that such a thing could have come from us and left our four walls. We have the highest level of security, ”he said, which is almost a confirmation that they have Novitsjok. Without trying to compare with, they would not have been able to say with certainty either. The poison could thus hypothetically have come from Porton Down, which is 12 kilometers from the place where Skripal was poisoned.

We must therefore ask the following questions: Why must father and daughter Skripal have been poisoned by a substance from Russia, if this very unusual substance is found in the city of Salisbury, England, and only in Salisbury where Skripal lives?

Russia's motivations?

But let's first think about the fact that Russia and only Russia had this nerve poison. Why should Russia, in such a case, use this method of killing that would appear as a signature for a Russian murder? In a 1995 mafia murder, Russian prosecutors were able to trace the substance of the individuals who produced it. The exact formula for the substance made it possible to reveal who was responsible in the Russian laboratory. The same could be done in this case as well.

If the substance could be linked to Russia, what did Russia have to gain from it? The incident took place a few days before the Russian presidential election. Criticism of Russia will continue for months to come, with a World Cup in Russia in June 2018 on the horizon. What would Russia gain from risking a boycott or canceled championship? It lacks all logic. In short, it is unreasonable. This whole story collapses like a house of cards. It appears more absurd than the claim of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But like the "weapons of mass destruction in Iraq", it will be used by the same peoples to achieve the same goals: to intensify and develop a conflict and possibly also open to a war. In this case, the other party is Russia – not Iraq.

Theresa May and British police at the scene. Photo: Scanpix

Why were no more poisoned?

But is it certain that Colonel Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve poison much stronger than VX? We have seen many photographs of men in white and gray protective suits examining all objects that Skripals could have come into contact with. This type of poison is deadly by touch, but the doctor who took care of Julia Skripal as she sat on the park bench says that Julia threw up and had cramps. The doctor put her on the ground and opened her breathing tubes. She took care of her for about 30 minutes. Afterwards, the doctor was scared that she might have been poisoned, but she later told the BBC that she felt absolutely fine, as did the man who took care of Sergei Skripal. This seems incomprehensible. How is this possible? She carries a grown man poisoned by something much stronger than VX and takes care of her for half an hour, but she herself doesn't feel anything? One gram is said to be sufficient to kill 1000 people. The head of the OPCW (Turkey's former NATO member), Ahmet Üzümcü, says 50-100 grams of nerve poison have been used in Salisbury. It was supposed to be enough to kill 50 to 000 people, but no one died. This does not match the description of Novitsjok, who kills after only a few minutes.

Boris Johnson stated that 39 people may have been exposed to the nerve poison, and Theresa May talked about more than 130 people, but Stephen Davies, who treated those who were poisoned in Salisbury, says there were only three people: Sergey and Julia Skripal and the cop Nick Bailey.

If this should have been a Novitsjok nerve poison, it should have caused many more people to become infected. According to Vladimir Uglev, those who have been exposed to Novitsjok would definitely also have died.

Uglev stated on March 20 that Sergei and Julia Skripal may now be kept alive artificially. They have no chance of survival if they have been exposed to these nerve poisons. Yet we know that everyone is now in relatively good shape. On March 29, Julia Skripal was described as much better. She borrowed a phone at the hospital and called her cousin Victoria in Moscow.

Why are those who have been in contact with Skripals not injured, and why have Skripals survived?

Victoria Skripal then prepared to go to London, but she did not get a visa. Both father and daughter are now isolated. They are not allowed to contact their family. British authorities say they do not want contact. On May 23, Julia Skripal read a letter to Reuters – asking for her to be isolated, but the letter was written in a sophisticated and bureaucratic English – hardly by Julia Skripal. There is something strange about this. 200 officers in protective suits will work for months to decontaminate Salisbury. At the same time, there has been an exercise in chemical weapons in Salisbury. But why are those who have been in contact with Skripal not injured, and why have Skripal survived? The first witness believed that Skripal and her daughter had taken drugs. Sergei Skripal made strange hand gestures and looked up at the sky. Julia Skripal looked like she was knocked out. Maybe there is something else that made them throw up and get cramps?

Statistically impossible

There have been various hypotheses in the media about how Sergei and Julia Skripal were poisoned. It has been said that some may have sprayed them while sitting on the park bench, that they were poisoned while sitting in the pizza restaurant or bar, or in the car or in their home. Another hypothesis that has been made in the media has been that they were poisoned through Julia Skripal's luggage from Moscow. What we do know is that these nerve poisons work quickly and people die within minutes. They also began to throw up on the park bench. It seems to mean that they were poisoned on the park bench or immediately before they got there.

Sergei Skripal. Photo: Scanpix

At the same time, British authorities claim that the strongest concentration of poison has been found on the door handle of Skripal's home, which they left more than three hours before arriving at the park bench. That the poison would strike after three hours – exactly at the same time for Sergei and Julia Skripal – is completely incomprehensible.

First, it is believed that the poison works after a few minutes, not after several hours, and in the meantime they were at the bar eating lunch – without showing any signs of trouble. Secondly, it is statistically impossible for the poison to work with the exact same delay on different people. Third, both Sergei and Julia Skripal did not grab the handle when they locked the door. This does not agree with the description contained in the gift. Maybe that's why something else is behind it.

Added to the samples?

Only after a few weeks did OPCW take samples, including blood tests. On April 12, they said the poison found in Salisbury had "a high degree of purity," which is astonishing as it had been a few weeks since Skripal and his daughter were poisoned. Normally one should have found remnants of the poison, but not a "pure" nerve poison. If "pure Novitsjok" had been found on the door handle of Sergei Skripal's house, he would have died, according to Leonid Rink.

On April 14, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the OPCV laboratory in Spiez (Switzerland), which had delivered its conclusions to the OPCW, had found traces of the neurotoxin BZ in their blood. The Spiez lab did not deny this.

The British government's play along with the media hysteria prevents any normal relations with Moscow.

BZ was developed in the 1950s and was manufactured primarily in the United States – never in Russia. It is a nerve poison that makes people incapacitated without necessarily killing them, and Skripal's symptoms seem to fit better with a BZ poisoning. What poison OPCW had found remains secret, but "pure Novitsjok" should have led to Skripal's immediate death, and samples taken two to three weeks after the incident should hardly contain nerve poison "of high purity". Novitsjok dissolves in contact with water and other substances relatively quickly, according to Rink.

The OPCW management initially refused to comment on the Spiez laboratory's findings, but said after four days of deliberation that they had added BZ to the sample to test the laboratory (as a "control sample"). It seems more likely that they had added "pure Novitsjok", because after several weeks one should find nothing but remnants of the original substances. The poison dissolves. The nerve toxin "of high purity" that was present in the samples must have been added shortly before the samples were taken or directly in the samples. This seems to be a technical proof.

May lead to a political disaster

Prime Minister Theresa May has, as is well known, claimed that Moscow is "very likely" to be responsible for the attack on Skripal. The Russians in turn refused, and replied that they would see the samples, but this would not be given by the British. The major media companies also immediately pointed to Russia. The consequence of domestic politics was that the government's play, together with the media hysteria, prevented all normal relations with Moscow. This put into question Jeremy Corbyn's policy, which has opened a dialogue with Russia. He lost support. Theresa May's play appears as an attempt to discredit Labor and others who wanted to have a dialogue with Moscow, while also shying away from Brexit, which is a complicated issue for her. Her "toxic attack" on Moscow may be primarily about British domestic politics.

Some others have suggested that there may have been a settlement among Russian criminals, but this does not explain the British leadership's direct attack on Moscow.

The whole thing can today appear as an intelligence operation that has been carried out to blacken the Russian leadership and weaken their legitimacy. In Moscow, this has been perceived as an attack on the Russian regime. On April 3, Russia Today quoted Putin as saying he was "amazed at how quickly the incident turned into a frontal attack on Russia." In the West, people are apparently not willing to listen to Moscow, as if the time for an oral dialogue is now over.

The consequences of diplomatic repatriation and breach of dialogue can end with even greater political disaster.

See also the case Russian defectors and the Litvinenko affair,
and facts about Russia and the Chemical Weapons Convention

avatar photos
Ola Tunander
Tunander is Professor Emeritus of PRIO. See also wikipedia, at PRIO: , as well as a bibliography on Waterstone

You may also like