On Saturday, June 30, in the British City Amesbury (12 km from Salisbury) there was an incident which initially seemed to be common and insignificant: with a difference of several hours, Salibury District Hospital admitted a man and a woman: 45-year-old Charlie Rowley and 44 year old Dawn Sturges. Initial conclusions of doctors indicated that the couple was poisoned by a narcotic substance (heroine or crack cocaine).
However, on July 4, Assistant Commissioner of Specialist Operations Neil Basu announced that Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturges were exposed to the poison agent of the class “Novichok” (the nerve agent Novichok). According to him, this is evidenced by tests, conducted in the laboratory of Porton Down, located nearby. The statement of Neil Basu provoked a series of publications in British and world media, which somehow linked the incident in Amesbury with the case of Skripals and mentioned the possible involvement of Russia. On July 5 British authorities notified the Organization of Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) of this incident.
To date, it is unclear if Novichok was actually used in Amesbury, as well as who was responsible for the incident. Representatives of British authorities did not hasten to openly accuse Russia of a targeted attack on British citizens, but later the Minister of Internal Affairs Sajid Javid, came out with a harsh statement once again accusing Russia of attacking Sergei and Yulia Skripal, while saying that Russia already launched a campaign misinforming the public about the incident in Amesbury.
It is worth noting here that there are many contradictions in the statements of representatives of the British authorities. The Security Minister, Ben Wallace and the south west deputy director of Public Health of England, Debbie Stark claimed a low level of danger to the residents of Amesbury and its surrounding areas. At the same time, the representative of Public Health England recommended that everyone who was out in the streets of Amesbury on Friday June 29 to wash their clothes and personal belongings.
A new round of the information campaign devoted to the “Novichok”, and accusations against Russia is unfolding in the midst of an attempt to normalize relations between Russia and the Western countries. Recall that a meeting between the President of Russia and the President of the United States is scheduled for July 16 in Helsinki. Its purpose is to discuss key issues between bilateral relations of Moscow and Washington. Aside from that, Russia is successfully hosting the World Cup. The level of organization of the championship, and the Russian reality, which turned out to be quite different than what was depicted in the western media, has already changed the perception of Russia in the eyes of millions of people around the world. It is also noteworthy that on July 1 Sweden decided not to engage in the previously announced boycott of the Word Cup.
Poisonous substance of the “Novichok” type, which, according to the conclusions of scientists from Porton Down, was allegedly used to poison the couple from Amesbury, and which was previously used in March 2018 on Sergei and Julia Skripal, is covered by the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. All information about this type of poisonous substances comes mainly from the mass media, and the conclusions are based on the book of the American chemist Vila Mirzayanov, whose reliability is questioned.
Current facts on the events surrounding the incident in Amesbury are insufficient to make definite conclusions about who can be behind the act. However, there are several main versions:
- Dawn Sturges & Charlie Rowley were poisoned by the remnants of the substance used to poison Sergei and Julia Skripal.
- The crime was committed by Russian Special Services with unclear goals. For example, some kind of operation used to discredit the British Special services.
- The crime was carried out by the British Special Services with the view to discredit Russia on the eve of talks between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.
- The crime was committed by a third party (another state, a terrorist organization, an individual or a group of individuals) in order to strengthen the divide between Moscow and Washington, destabilize the system of international relations or for personal financial or other interests.
- There could have been an act of negligence in dealing with dangerous substance of individuals mentioned in points 2-4, at the preparatory stages
Assuming for a moment that Dawn Sturges and Charlie Rowley were actually poisoned by “Novichok”, it is necessary to evaluate the reliability of different versions using the following criteria: the presence of a goal and motive; availability of appropriate opportunities (financial, organizational, technical). In this case, the version according to which the British couple was poisoned by the remnants of a poisonous substance allegedly used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal, seems unlikely because of the inability to preserve its properties by poison agents for 4 months from the time of the Salisbury incident. The version that Dawn Sturges and Charlie Rowley found remnants of the substance used to prepare the attack on the Skripals also fails to withstand any criticism.
Russia along with its special services has the financial, technical and organizational capabilities to carry out such an operation. At the same time, there is no clear purpose and motive. It is difficult to consider this as a desire to discredit British intelligence and counterintelligence. Similarly, it makes no sense that the Russian military and political leadership is pursuing foreign policy, guided by irrational aims and motives, and thereby creating an information campaign which mainly damages Russia’s image amid the upcoming political negotiations with the US and the ongoing World Cup.
The UK, just like Russia, has the appropriate capabilities to conduct the corresponding operation. At the same time, the British leadership is displeased with the upcoming meeting of the Russian and US presidents and the possible normalization of relations between Moscow and Washington. However, it is unlikely that London would choose to discredit Russia by means of carrying out an operation with an attack on its own citizens, or, as with the version about Russia’s involvement, it is necessary to recognize the irrationality of the goals of the London leadership.
The most likely explanation is an involvement of a third party that is not directly evident in the news or bulletins. This party would have the goals and motives for carrying out an operation similar to that which could have happened in Amesbury. This party could be:
- Individual states that are not interested in improving relations between Russia and the United States (for example Ukraine or the Baltic countries)
- Terrorist organisations (ISIS, Jabhat al Nusra, etc)
- Certain representatives of special services acting on their own initiative or acting in the interests of other, non-systemic forces
- Individuals, transnational cooperation or a network of individuals and interest groups from different countries.
The financial, organizational and technical capabilities of such regional players as Ukraine, although they are limited in comparison with key international players, may theoretically be sufficient to carry out such an operation. This assumption is also true for the version about the involvement of terrorist organizations. However, if we consider this assumption as probable, we should acknowledge the insolvency of the British intelligence services, who failed to identify and prevent such a crime in time, especially in the conditions of increased security measures introduced in the UK after the March incident.
The probability of the action of individual representatives of special services acting on their own initiative is low. However, one can not exclude that such persons could act in the interests of other – non-systemic – forces, for example, a private player, a transnational corporation or a network of players. Opportunities for the implementation of a similar action for a player (players) with adequate financial resources are sufficient. Thus, the purposes and motives can carry both a financial character, and a deeper one, which is hidden from the understanding of the general public.
When analyzing the motives of this whole situation, the main issue is the personality of the victims who have nothing to do with either the Skripals, the international agenda, or big money. Accordingly, the highest probability is that we are dealing with the fifth scenario: with negligence in dealing with the dangerous substance of individuals acting in line with the motives mentioned above i.e. the substance was not used against real targets but was accidentally used against random individuals.
To date, it is not known for sure whether the toxic agent of the class “Novichok” was actually used in the incident in Amesbury. The main sources of information on this topic are representatives of British services involved in the investigation. The emergence of new information, the process of investigation, its completeness and transparency, can have a significant impact on the development of relations between Russia and the West: to strengthen or further undermine confidence between these countries.
The possibilities for independent planning and implementation of such an operation were available to all the players listed above. However, the motives, goals, and also the way to realize possible goals, indicates the presence of a third force, interested not only in the deterioration of relations between Russia and the United States, but in general in deepening the destabilization of the system of international relations.
Further development of events will depend on the actions and statements of the main players involved in the incident. In the event of the implementation of the conflict scenario, Moscow and London will blame each other for carrying out this operation with a view to mutually discredit each other. At the same time, both sides understand the complexity and ambiguity of the situation and its possible consequences: the first statements of the representatives of the two countries can be characterized as cautious, which means that the probability of a de-escalation scenario, as well as the prospect of finding the true customers and executors of the crime, remains.