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Assessing the Novichok evidence in the Skripal case

OPCW confirms Novichok used to attack Skripals but does not say who made it

Alexander Mercouris

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The long awaited report of the OPCW on the Skripal case has confirmed that a chemical agent of a type that the British authorities call a Novichok was used in the attack in Salisbury on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

However the report does not say where this chemical was made, which as British ambassador Craig Murray correctly says is the key point at issue.

In effect the OPCW report therefore takes the Skripal case no further forward than the point it had reached following the admission by Porton Down’s chief executive Gary Aitkenhead that though Britain’s Porton Down scientists had identified the agent as a Novichok, they were unable to say where it was made.

At this point I think it might help if I clarify several points about the Novichok evidence as I understand it.

Firstly, there has been much discussion about Novichok agents and their properties, with many people doubting that a Novichok agent was used at all in the Skripal case given that Novichok agents are supposed to be eight times more powerful than the British agent VX notwithstanding which Sergey and Yulia Skripal are nonetheless supposed to have survived contact with one and were able to walk around Salisbury for several hours after they supposedly came into contact with it.

There have been suggestions that the whole thing is a gigantic fraud and that what struck Sergey and Yulia Skripal down was nothing more than a bad case of food poisoning caused by a sea food risotto which they eat for lunch in a restaurant.

It is important to understand however that saying that a Novichok agent was not used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal is a conspiracy theory.

I say this because for this theory to be true it would require the British police  – a notoriously truculent and independent minded group of people who are currently on extremely bad terms with the current British government – the local NHS staff – who are likely to be mostly Labour Party supporters and many of whom are probably supporters of Jeremy Corbyn – and the scientists of Porton Down – whose refusal to point the finger at Russia has caused the British government much embarrassment – to collude with each other in order to pretend that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with a Novichok when in fact they were poisoned by something else.

As I have said many times, simply because something is a conspiracy theory does not mean it is not true.  Actual conspiracies happen all the time and always have done.

However I would need to see a lot more evidence before I believed in this one, and frankly the OPCW’s confirmation that the agent used in the Skripal case was indeed a Novichok to my mind puts the whole question beyond doubt.

The fact that Sergey and Yulia Skripal survived their contact with the Novichok agent and appeared unaffected by it for many hours after they are supposed to have come into contact with it are not in my opinion reasons for doubting that they were poisoned by a Novichok.

Rather they are reasons for doubting that the agent they came into contact with is anywhere near as powerful as has been claimed.

Other possibilities are that the quantity of the Novichok agent they came into contact with was very small and/or that they did not come into contact with it in the way that the British authorities say they did ie. on the door knob of Sergey Skripal’s house.

The fact that a Novichok agent was used means that there has to be a very high probability that this was as the British authorities say a murder attempt.

Whilst it is possible to construct alternative theories frankly they don’t seem very likely, and until and unless alternative evidence which casts doubt on the murder attempt theory comes to light, I will stick with it.

The fact that a Novichok agent was used in what looks like a murder attempt does not however prove that the murder attempt was the work of the Russian authorities despite the attempt of the British authorities to argue otherwise.

This is because the linkage between Russia and Novichok agents does not appear to be anywhere near as strong as the British authorities claim that it is.

There has been much discussion about the precise status of the Novichok programme in the USSR in the 1970s and thereafter.

It seems that some early reporting confused what may have been a Novichok programme in the USSR – or perhaps more accurately a chemical weapons research programme which resulted in the development of certain agents which have come to be called “Novichoks” – with a quite different chemical weapons programme which was also underway in the USSR at this time, and which resulted in the development of a completely different set of chemical agents.

It seems that the chemical agent which was used in 1995 in the Kivelidi murder was apparently one of these other agents from this other programme, and was not in fact what is today called a “Novichok”.

The Russians themselves have given muddled information about these programmes, and their statements on this subject are far from clear, a fact which the British have exploited to their advantage.

However so far as I can understand it the Russian position is (1) that there was no ‘Novichok programme’ as such in the USSR or in Russia at any time; (2) that the name ‘Novichok’, though Russian, was first used in the West in order to describe a number of chemical agents which were either researched or were being developed during the Cold War simultaneously in a number of countries, and not just in the USSR (the Russians have mentioned the US, Britain, Sweden and Czechoslovakia – all countries with advanced chemical industries – amongst them); and (3) that neither the USSR nor Russia ever produced or stockpiled any of these Novichok agents in any quantity or made weapons from them, and that the work on Novichoks never went beyond a research programme.

I understand the Russians also to say that all their chemical weapons stockpiles have been fully accounted for and destroyed, and that the OPCW routinely monitors all their chemical laboratories including the laboratory in Shikhany in the Saratov Region where the British authorities have suggested that the Novichok agent which was used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal might have been made.

I am obviously not in a position to say whether or not this Russian account – assuming I am reporting it properly – is true.

I would say that to my knowledge all sorts of strange and exotic weapons were researched in any number of laboratories both in the East and the West during the Cold War – research grants for that sort of thing were plentiful in those days – with only a tiny fraction of this research ever resulting in usable weapons.

In light of this background, the Russian account – if I have reproduced it correctly – does not look to me at all implausible.

What is indisputable – irrespective of whether the Russian account is true or not – is that knowledge of how to produce what are now called Novichok agents is today quite widespread, and is not just confined to Russia.

Moreover academic chemists have questioned claims that a Novichok agent of the type used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal could only have been made by a state actor.

Accordingly – as Porton Down has admitted – it is not possible to say that a particular sample of chemical agent was made in Russia simply because it is of a Novichok type, and neither Porton Down and nor it seems the OPCW are able say that any particular sample of Novichok agent was made in Russia, and are not saying this in relation to the Novichok samples which have been tested during the Skripal case.

Moreover based on what some academic chemists are saying, there are good reasons to doubt that only a state actor can make a Novichok agent of the sort that was used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

In summary, the Novichok evidence in the Skripal case is the same as the polonium evidence in the previous Litvinenko case.

In both cases use of a particular exotic material is said to implicate Russia.  In reality in both cases it does no such thing.  As it turns out the extent of the association of the material with Russia has been exaggerated.

Moreover it looks as if the toxic properties of both materials have also been exaggerated, whilst just as their supposed unique provenance in Russia turns out in both cases to be untrue, so in both cases it has also turned out to be untrue that the material can be scientifically proved to have come from Russia.

As it happens in the Litvinenko case the Russian authorities now say that the polonium probably came from Britain.

In fact the similarity between the polonium evidence in the Litvinenko case and the Novichok evidence in the Skripal case is so strong that I for one am left wondering whether the idea of using an exotic agent like a Novichok in the Skripal case came from the way the presence of polonium in the Litvinenko case was (wrongly) held to implicate Russia.

The fact that a television drama involving Russian gangsters has apparently recently been broadcast in which use of a Novichok agent is apparently an integral part of the plot shown may also have put the idea of using a Novichok into someone’s head, though I should say that I have not seen this drama and obviously I do not know this.

In any event use of a Novichok agent in the Skripal case is an interesting and important fact, but it is not conclusive of anything in and of itself.

Certainly it does not prove the identity of the perpetrator in the way that the British authorities have been saying that it does – or at least not in the way that they have been saying – and it should not be treated as it it does.

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Is this man the puppet master of Ukraine’s new president or an overhyped bogeyman?

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

RT

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Via RT…


It doesn’t actually matter if Ukrainian-Israeli billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is the real power behind Volodymyr Zelensky – the president elect has to get rid of the oligarch if he is to make a break with the country’s corrupt past.

The plots, deceits and conflicts of interest in Ukrainian politics are so transparent and hyperbolic, that to say that novice politician Zelensky was a protégé of his long-time employer was not something that required months of local investigative journalism – it was just out there.

Zelensky’s comedy troupe has been on Kolomoisky’s top-rated channel for the past eight years, and his media asset spent every possible resource promoting the contender against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, a personal enemy of the tycoon, who hasn’t even risked entering Ukraine in the past months.

Similarly, the millions and the nous needed to run a presidential campaign in a country of nearly 50 million people had to come from somewhere, and Kolomoisky’s lieutenants were said to be in all key posts. The two issued half-hearted denials that one was a frontman for the other, insisting that they were business partners with a cordial working relationship, but voters had to take their word for it.

Now that the supposed scheme has paid off with Zelensky’s spectacular victory in Sunday’s run-off, Ukrainian voters are asking: what does Kolomoisky want now, and will he be allowed to run the show?

‘One-of-a-kind chancer’

Born in 1963, in a family of two Jewish engineers, Kolomoisky is the type of businessman that was once the staple of the post-Soviet public sphere, but represents a dying breed.

That is, he is not an entrepreneur in the established Western sense at all – he did not go from a Soviet bloc apartment to Lake Geneva villas by inventing a new product, or even setting up an efficient business structure in an existing field.

Rather he is an opportunist who got wealthy by skilfully reading trends as the Soviet economy opened up – selling Western-made computers in the late 1980s – and later when independent Ukraine transitioned to a market economy and Kolomoisky managed to get his hands on a large amount of privatisation vouchers that put many of the juiciest local metals and energy concerns into his hands, which he then modernised.

What he possesses is a chutzpah and unscrupulousness that is rare even among his peers. Vladimir Putin once called him a “one-of-a-kind chancer” who managed to “swindle [Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich himself.” In the perma-chaos of Ukrainian law and politics, where all moves are always on the table, his tactical acumen has got him ahead.

Kolomoisky’s lifeblood is connections and power rather than any pure profit on the balance sheet, though no one actually knows how that would read, as the Privat Group he part-owns is reported to own over 100 businesses in dozens of Ukrainian spheres through a complex network of offshore companies and obscure intermediaries (“There is no Privat Group, it is a media confection,” the oligarch himself says, straight-faced.)

Unsurprisingly, he has been dabbling in politics for decades, particularly following the first Orange Revolution in 2004. Though the vehicles for his support have not been noted for a particular ideological consistency – in reportedly backing Viktor Yushchenko, then Yulia Tymoshenko, he was merely putting his millions on what he thought would be a winning horse.

Grasp exceeds reach

But at some point in the post-Maidan euphoria, Kolomoisky’s narcissism got the better of him, and he accepted a post as the governor of his home region of Dnepropetrovsk, in 2014.

The qualities that might have made him a tolerable rogue on TV, began to grate in a more official role. From his penchant for using the political arena to settle his business disputes, to creating his own paramilitary force by sponsoring anti-Russian battalions out of his own pocket, to his somewhat charmless habit of grilling and threatening to put in prison those less powerful than him in fits of pique (“You wait for me out here like a wife for a cheating husband,” begins a viral expletive-strewn rant against an overwhelmed Radio Free Europe reporter).

There is a temptation here for a comparison with a Donald Trump given a developing country to play with, but for all of the shenanigans, his ideological views have always been relatively straightforward. Despite his Russia-loathing patriotism, not even his fans know what Kolomoisky stands for.

The oligarch fell out with fellow billionaire Poroshenko in early 2015, following a battle over the control of a large oil transport company between the state and the governor. The following year, his Privat Bank, which at one point handled one in four financial transactions in the country was nationalized, though the government said that Kolomoisky had turned it into a mere shell by giving $5 billion of its savings to Privat Group companies.

Other significant assets were seized, the government took to London to launch a case against his international companies, and though never banished, Kolomoisky himself decided it would be safer if he spent as long as necessary jetting between his adopted homes in Switzerland and Tel Aviv, with the occasional trip to London for the foreseeable future.

But the adventurer falls – and rises again. The London case has been dropped due to lack of jurisdiction, and only last week a ruling came shockingly overturning the three-year-old nationalization of Privat Bank.

Smiling to himself, Kolomoisky would be within his rights to think that he has never had it so good.

Own man

Zelensky must disabuse him of that notion.

It doesn’t matter that they are friends. Or what handshake agreements they made beforehand. Or that he travelled to Geneva and Tel-Aviv 13 times in the past two years. Or what kompromat Kolomoisky may or may not have on him. It doesn’t matter that his head of security is the man who, for years, guarded the oligarch, and that he may quite genuinely fear for his own safety (it’s not like nothing bad has ever happened to Ukrainian presidents).

Volodymyr Zelensky is now the leader of a large country, with the backing of 13.5 million voters. It is to them that he promised a break with past bribery, graft and cronyism. Even by tolerating one man – and one who makes Poroshenko look wholesome – next to him, he discredits all of that. He will have the support of the people if he pits himself against the puppet master – no one would have elected Kolomoisky in his stead.

Whether the oligarch is told to stay away, whether Ukraine enables the financial fraud investigation into him that has been opened by the FBI, or if he is just treated to the letter of the law, all will be good enough. This is the first and main test, and millions who were prepared to accept the legal fiction of the independent candidate two months ago, will now want to see reality to match. Zelensky’s TV president protagonist in Servant of the People – also broadcast by Kolomoisky’s channel, obviously, would never have compromised like that.

What hinges on this is not just the fate of Zelensky’s presidency, but the chance for Ukraine to restore battered faith in its democracy shaken by a succession of compromised failures at the helm.

Igor Ogorodnev

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Roger Waters – The People’s Champion for Freedom

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there.

Richard Galustian

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Submitted by Richard Galustian 

Roger Waters is one of Britain’s most successful and talented musicians and composers but more importantly is an outstanding champion for freedom in the world, beyond compare to any other artist turned political activist.

By way of background, he co-founded the rock band Pink Floyd in 1965.

A landmark turning point of his political activism occurred in 1990, when Waters staged probably the largest rock concert in history, ‘The Wall – Live in Berlin’, with an attendance of nearly half a million people.

In more recent years Waters famously narrated the 2016 documentary ‘The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States’ about the insidious influence of Zionist Israel to shape American public opinion.

Waters has been an outspoken critic of America’s Neocons and particularly Donald Trump and his policies.

In 2017, Waters condemned Trump’s plan to build a wall separating the United States and Mexico, saying that his band’s iconic famous song, ‘The Wall’ is as he put it “very relevant now with Mr. Trump and all of this talk of building walls and creating as much enmity as possible between races and religions.”

In February 2019, Waters showed his support for the Venezuelan Maduro government and continues to be totally against US regime change plans there, or any place else for that matter.

Here below is a must see recent Roger Waters interview, via satellite from New York, where he speaks brilliantly, succinctly and honestly, unlike no other celebrity, about FREEDOM and the related issues of the day.

The only other artist turned activist, but purely for human rights reasons, as she is apolitical, is the incredible Carla Ortiz.

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ISIS Says Behind Sri Lanka Bombings; Was ‘Retaliation’ For New Zealand Mosque Massacre

ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. 

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Via Zerohedge…


Shortly after the death toll from Sunday’s Easter bombings in Sri Lanka climbed above the 300 mark, ISIS validated the Sri Lankan government’s suspicions that a domestic jihadi organization had help from an international terror network while planning the bombings were validated when ISIS took credit for the attacks.

The claim was made via a report from ISIS’s Amaq news agency. Though the group has lost almost all of the territory that was once part of its transnational caliphate, ISIS now boasts cells across the Muslim world, including in North Africa and elsewhere. Before ISIS took credit for the attack, a Sri Lankan official revealed that Sunday’s attacks were intended as retaliation for the killing of 50 Muslims during last month’s mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand.

However, the Sri Lankan government didn’t offer any evidence for that claim, or the claim that Sunday’s attacks were planned by two Islamic groups (though that now appears to have been substantiated by ISIS’s claim of responsibility). The group is believed to have worked with the National Tawheed Jamaath, according to the NYT.

“The preliminary investigations have revealed that what happened in Sri Lanka was in retaliation for the attack against Muslims in Christchurch,” State Minister of Defense Ruwan Wijewardene told the Parliament.

Meanwhile, the number of suspects arrested in connection with the attacks had increased to 40 from 24 as of Tuesday. The government had declared a national emergency that allowed it sweeping powers to interrogate and detain suspects.

On Monday, the FBI pledged to send agents to Sri Lanka and provide laboratory support for the investigation.

As the death toll in Sri Lanka climbs, the attack is cementing its position as the deadliest terror attack in the region.

  • 321 (as of now): Sri Lanka bombings, 2019
  • 257 Mumbai attacks, 1993
  • 189 Mumbai train blasts, 2006 166 Mumbai attacks, 2008
  • 151 APS/Peshawar school attack, 2014
  • 149 Mastung/Balochistan election rally attack, 2018

Meanwhile, funeral services for some of the bombing victims began on Tuesday.

Even before ISIS took credit for the attack, analysts told the Washington Post that its unprecedented violence suggested that a well-financed international organization was likely involved.

The bombings on Sunday, however, came with little precedent. Sri Lanka may have endured a ghastly civil war and suicide bombings in the past – some credit the Tamil Tigers with pioneering the tactic – but nothing of this scale. Analysts were stunned by the apparent level of coordination behind the strikes, which occurred around the same time on both sides of the country, and suggested the attacks carried the hallmarks of a more international plot.

“Sri Lanka has never seen this sort of attack – coordinated, multiple, high-casualty – ever before, even with the Tamil Tigers during the course of a brutal civil war,” Alan Keenan, a Sri Lanka expert at the International Crisis Group, told the Financial Times. “I’m not really convinced this is a Sri Lankan thing. I think the dynamics are global, not driven by some indigenous debate. It seems to me to be a different kind of ballgame.”

Hinting at possible ISIS involvement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a Monday press conference that “radical Islamic terror” remained a threat even after ISIS’s defeats in Syria.

Of course, ISIS’s claim couldn’t be confirmed and the group has been  known to make “opportunistic” claims in the past, according to WaPo. The extremist group said the attacks were targeting Christians and “coalition countries” and were carried out by fighters from its organization.

Speculation that the government had advanced warning of the attacks, but failed to act amid a power struggle between the country’s president and prime minister, unnerved citizens and contributed to a brewing backlash. Following the bombings, schools and mass had been canceled until at least Monday, with masses called off “until further notice.”

 

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