On April 12, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Maria Zakharova once again draw attention to the recent developments over the so-called Skripal poisoning case (source):
Everyone knows about the information campaign, or rather warfare of the UK authorities against Russia over the so-called Skripal case. They are using all the propaganda means and methods they can get their hands on. It is a long time since we last saw an ill-disguised and unscrupulous anti-Russia campaign of this dimension. The UK authorities are disregarding the standards of international law, diplomatic rules and principles, and elementary human ethics.
New versions and more discrepancies are coming to light amid the silence kept by the concerned UK agencies and the numerous political statements, which were anti-Russia from the very beginning. We do not see any intention on the part of the UK authorities to disprove false information planted in the media and blatant lies. On the contrary, this massive propaganda campaign involving all types of media is fully in keeping with London’s anti-Russia strategy. The UK authorities are actually encouraging the deliberate distortion of facts. It is clear why they are doing this. If government agencies and media outlets, for example, in the UK, really decided to get to the bottom of this case, if they started questioning some of the reported “facts” and analysing the increasing number of discrepancies, this would have rocked the European public’s belief in Russia’s alleged involvement. And the people would have asked the question that should have been addressed to London earlier on in the case: What has really happened at Salisbury?
Judge for yourself: On March 4, a former GRU officer and an agent of the British secret services, who was brought to the UK in a spy swap in 2010 after serving part of his prison term in Russia, and his daughter Yulia, a Russian citizen living permanently in Russia, were poisoned, as we have been told, with one of the most potent nerve gases known as Novichok according to the Western classification. Moreover, this happened in broad daylight in a quiet UK town that is not a tourist or pilgrimage site but a place where neighbours know each other and notice the smallest details. More than that, judging from London’s claims, Moscow apparently did not find a better time to poison Sergey Skripal than a week before the presidential election and three months before the FIFA World Cup, although it could have had lots of opportunities to do this since 2004, first while Skripal was serving a prison term for treason in Russia and later after he moved to the UK in a spy swap.
Nobody wanted to take any notice of these facts. The crime was immediately blamed on Russia. The very first official statements started appearing even before the more or less serious investigation began. Of course, Moscow was kept away from the investigation, probably because London has drawn its lessons from the Litvinenko case, when Russia’s initial involvement complicated the investigation. BBC brought up the Litvinenko case as soon as March 6.
On that day, BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera drew parallels with the poisoning of ex-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko in the UK in 2006. However, there is one very important difference between the two cases: back in 2006, the public was at least shown the photographs of Litvinenko. As for the Skripals, during the whole month since the tragedy nobody has seen them. The media and Russian officials have been unable to contact the Skripals, although we have sent numerous notes to the UK side asking for such an opportunity.
But Russia has not kept away from these developments either. London has turned a blind eye to Russia’s appeals over the Skripal case and has refused to involve our officials in the investigation. In this situation, we simply must draw public attention to inconsistencies in the official UK statements and assessments, and to the numerous absurd leaks. A simple comparison of facts and conclusions clearly shows that this case is a poorly prepared and implemented (in terms of logic and logistics) provocation against Russia.
Full use has been made in this case of a new information warfare strategy, with the planting of fake news and suspicious leaks. Take note of the extremely sparse comments made by the official investigative authorities. The most frequent explanation was that the investigation was highly confidential and involved the interests of national security. What is the explanation then for the new versions of the incident, citing “sources close to the investigation”, that were provided almost daily to the media? Does this mean that the investigation was not so extremely confidential after all? Or do the UK investigative authorities employ people who don’t understand that state secrets must be kept secret? I believe that they know how to keep secrets. Previous cases have shown that when information is made confidential in the UK it is kept confidential tightly and for a long time. This brings us to the initial presumption according to which these leaks, which continue to reach the public, are made deliberately. Furthermore, no official comments have been made regarding these numerous leaks to the media. One more feature concerning this case is that many leaks allegedly originated from official agencies, yet none of these agencies have published a refutation.
Why do we say that this is a novel feature? Because the British media acted as the press service of government agencies in this case. One possible explanation is that these agencies are incompetent, but they are nothing but. We know how well the British can work, including in an information environment. We have seen the clear-cut and emotional statements made by Prime Minister Theresa May in parliament and the extravagant statements made by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, including in the media. But why didn’t members of the investigative authorities hold any briefings or news conferences to clarify the discrepancies as well as the leaks to the media? They have not been held because the authorities didn’t need them. London did not want to follow grammar rules to the letter in this compound sentence.
The number of versions, according to the UK media, was really impressive.
March 5: Salisbury Journal writes that emergency services suspect the powerful drug fentanyl, a synthetic opiate, may have been involved. The Zizzi restaurant where the Skripals ate that day has been cordoned off.
The Telegraph offered a similar version. That item was later deleted but it is still to be found in Google’s cache. Why was it deleted? What information did it carry that had to be done away with so urgently?
March 6: Nothing was clear yet, but Boris Johnson says pre-emptively in Parliament that the UK will “respond appropriately and robustly” if the Russian state is found to have been involved in the Salisbury incident. The decision was clearly made and the political accusations were formulated.
March 7: Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley says that the former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were deliberately poisoned with a nerve agent. He refused to reveal the substance used.
The Daily Star carries an item saying that the victims may have been targeted with poison spray by an assassin.
March 8: The newspaper Metro writes that the nerve agent may have been administered into the pair’s food.
March 10: The Skripals could have been poisoned in the Mill pub or at the Zizzi restaurant. Those who visited the pub and the restaurant are advised to “wash their clothes and possessions,” says the advice posted on the UK government’s website. Note that the investigators suspect poisoning by one of the most toxic agents, yet six days after the event the authorities only recommend that the people “wash their clothes”!
The same day, Daily Mail writes, citing a high-ranking source, that the bouquet of fresh flowers Sergey Skripal laid at his wife’s grave may have been contaminated.
March 11: The newspaper Express writes about a sophisticated plot to kill Sergey and Yulia Skripal with a poisoned parcel delivered by a courier service.
March 12: Theresa May says in Parliament that Sergey Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia and known as Novichok. The UK Prime Minister said precisely the following: “It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.
This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’. Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergey and Yulia Skripal… There are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March. Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
March 13: Mail Online offers a new version of the incident: a nerve agent was smeared on the door handle of Sergey Skripal’s car.
March 14: Theresa May blames Russia for the attempted assassination of the Skripals.
UK Deputy Permanent Representative Jonathan Allen said there was “no alternative conclusion than that the Russian state was responsible for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter.”
March 15: The Guardian cites Boris Johnson as saying that the UK government had “overwhelming evidence” of Russia’s involvement. He did not say what kind of evidence the UK government had.
On the same day, The Telegraph published an article citing its own sources in the intelligence agencies, alleging that the nerve agent that poisoned Sergey Skripal was planted in his daughter’s suitcase. According to the newspaper, the toxic agent that poisoned Sergey Skripal landed in Salisbury via Yulia Skripal’s luggage. It was alleged that the toxin was impregnated in an item of clothing or cosmetics or in gifts brought by Yulia.
On March 17, Boris Johnson told the BBC that President of Russia Vladimir Putin was behind the Salisbury incident.
On March 18, The Daily Star posited, in keeping with the best traditions of science fiction, that a drone was used to poison the Skripal family. On the same day, The Guardian assumed that the toxic agent was introduced in the ventilation system of Skripal’s car. Let me remind you that British government agencies together with the investigative authorities have not yet refuted these claims.
On March 22, EU leaders issued a statement following a summit reaffirming the European Union’s solidarity in that there was no plausible alternative explanation to Russia’s involvement in the incident.
On March 28, the British police reported that the investigation believed that the Skripals contacted Novichok at home, since the highest concentration of the toxic agent was detected on the door handle of the building where Sergey Skripal lived.
On March 29, the Foreign Office posted a message on its official Twitter account, accusing Russia of spreading misleading information by exploring multiple versions and theories regarding the Salisbury incident (it turns out that we are the ones with multiple versions).
On April 1, The Sun tabloid published material alleging that the toxic agent could have been brought in a bag of buckwheat or in a packet of bay leaves or spices that Yulia forgot to pick up before her departure to Great Britain. Instead, she asked a female acquaintance who was to fly to London with her husband a little later to bring the things. As it later turned out, it was an April Fools’ Day joke. Do you think it is normal to make jokes in situations like this? This is not funny.
There was another version whereby Novichok was applied to an advertising leaflet that was intended for the Skripals.
On April 2, The New York Times cited “British officials” when it alleged that smearing a nerve agent on the door handle (after all, they preferred this explanation) was “so risky and sensitive,” that it was likely to have been undertaken by super professionals, meaning Russians… The newspaper went on to explain the lack of evidence on whether President of Russia Vladimir Putin himself ordered Sergey Skripal’s killing by the fact that the Russian President “is skilled at hiding his communications.”
On April 8, Boris Johnson published an article in The Sunday Times, claiming that Russia invented 29 theories about the poisoning of the Skripals. A few days before, on April 4, he released the long-awaited “facts” showing Russia’s alleged guilt in addition to the infamously overwhelming evidence contained in the six slides:
1. Porton Down identified the nerve agent as military grade Novichok;
2. Russia has investigated delivering nerve agents and as part of this programme has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichok;
3. Russia has a motive for targeting Sergey Skripal.
All in all, watching the events unfold as they were reported on the Twitter account of the UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is quite intriguing. Harsh, rude statements about Russia and its guilt in the Skripal case are mixed with cute photos of Boris surrounded by smiling people, followed by monsters wearing masks and chemical protection outfits. It can be easily spotted that people are being manipulated to believe that the “terrible Russia” has intruded into the peaceful and happy life Britain enjoyed.
It seems that this media campaign to discredit Russia has not been easy for British politicians. Either they have run out of arguments, or their nerves are on edge. Take the war of words between Boris Johnson and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who accused the Foreign Secretary of misleading the public by his frivolous interpretation of conclusions by Porton Down experts. In response, Boris Johnson accused the head of Labour party of playing the Kremlin’s game and “lending false credibility to its propaganda onslaught.” He went even further by describing Corbyn as “the Kremlin’s useful idiot.” And all this was done so that not a single political force within the country, let alone the media, has any appetite for appealing to reason and taking up a normal investigation after all. If statements of this kind can be thrown at politicians, what manners can be expected in communications with the country’s media?
The main message coming out from this multitude of voices is that the official position adopted by Britain does not require any evidence. It should be taken for granted. This is what British diplomats tell their colleagues when asked when evidence would be produced. They just look straight in your eyes and ask whether they are not being trusted.