The obvious untenability of the UK narrative on Skripal

there can be no doubt what was used and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible — only Russia has the means, the motive, and record [1]

Boris Johnson following the release of part of the OPCW  report into the chemical poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on 4 March. The report agrees that the nerve agent used was of the type identified by Porton Down – that is a family known in the West as Novichoks and developed in the Soviet Union.

The problem is that here Boris Johnson is (like many others in today’s Western media and political circles) simply coining a new method of determining truth. In this method it is enough for the West to assert something for it to be true.

  1. “Only Russia has the means”. It has been well-established now that this is simply not true. This type of nerve agents are a development of the organophosphate family. The formulas are quite widely known. The substances are not that hard to produce. After the fall of the Soviet Union both actual materials and/or know-how may well have been exported from the Soviet Union. Craig Murray has noted some of the evidence for all this including the US role in dismantling the old Soviet Chemical Weapons programme in Uzbekistan. It is just not true that “only Russia has the means”.
  2. “Only Russia has the motive”. Not even a plausible lie. Russia might have had a motive in killing their traitor. But Sergey Skripal has not been active (based on information that is available in the press) since his release as part of a spy swap in 2010. Why would Russia  simultaneously blow their supposed secret chemical weapons programme and provide the West with an excuse to ramp up sanctions etc – for the sake of a small act of revenge? Even if we allow that Russia “had a motive” it simply isn’t true that only Russia had a motive. The police will tell you that when investigating a crime one tactic is to see who benefits. Who benefits from this crime? The further isolation of Russia was a fully predictable result. Many countries have the motive to see Russia more isolated. Or, again, it could have been a personal motive. It just is not true at all that “only Russia had the motive”.
  3. “The record”. This of course is a circular argument. If every time something happens you accuse Russia and then say “it must be them because they did it last time” you have in fact not proven anything (other than your ability for self-delusion). Presumably this is a reference to the assassination of former Russian agent Litvinenko in London in 2006. In this matter the case seems stronger. The polonium which was used to kill him could be forensically linked to two Russians who visited London. Litvinenko was actively working for MI6 and against Russian interests when he was killed. But the case remains unproven and other explanations are viable. One contested (and let’s not drag up Soviet era assassinations by the Bulgarian secret service) assassination does not make a record. And, anyway, previous form does not and should not mean guilty. A basic principle of British justice which seems to have escaped Johnson.

That the British position (and this position is the same one as they have based their case on all along) is so completely untenable should tell us something. One explanation is that they are so terrified of Russia getting away with something they have to blame Russia even though they know that it might not be Russia. Another is that they don’t care; they wanted to ramp up the pressure on Russia and someone has conveniently provided them with an excuse. A third explanation is that they do indeed have secret intelligence which implicates Russia but which they can’t put into the public domain for fear of revealing sources. However; in this case one would perhaps expect them to say that. The public understand that some information has to be classified. That they haven’t done this and have tried to claim it must have been Russia on the basis of this strange new epistemological device: “it is true because no other plausible explanation is possible” suggests that this isn’t the explanation here. Other, more sinister, explanations are possible.

Notes

1. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2018/04/12/russia-nerve-agent/509994002/

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