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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




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 the Violent Dismemberment of Russia Official US Policy?

Neocons make the case that the West should not only seek to contain “Moscow’s imperial ambitions” but to actively seek the dismemberment of Russia as a whole.

The Duran



Authored by Erik D’Amato via The Ron Paul Institute for Peace & Prosperity:

If there’s one thing everyone in today’s Washington can agree on, it’s that whenever an official or someone being paid by the government says something truly outrageous or dangerous, there should be consequences, if only a fleeting moment of media fury.

With one notable exception: Arguing that the US should be quietly working to promote the violent disintegration and carving up of the largest country on Earth.

Because so much of the discussion around US-Russian affairs is marked by hysteria and hyperbole, you are forgiven for assuming this is an exaggeration. Unfortunately it isn’t. Published in the Hill under the dispassionate title “Managing Russia’s dissolution,” author Janusz Bugajski makes the case that the West should not only seek to contain “Moscow’s imperial ambitions” but to actively seek the dismemberment of Russia as a whole.

Engagement, criticism and limited sanctions have simply reinforced Kremlin perceptions that the West is weak and predictable. To curtail Moscow’s neo-imperialism a new strategy is needed, one that nourishes Russia’s decline and manages the international consequences of its dissolution.

Like many contemporary cold warriors, Bugajski toggles back and forth between overhyping Russia’s might and its weaknesses, notably a lack of economic dynamism and a rise in ethnic and regional fragmentation.But his primary argument is unambiguous: That the West should actively stoke longstanding regional and ethnic tensions with the ultimate aim of a dissolution of the Russian Federation, which Bugajski dismisses as an “imperial construct.”

The rationale for dissolution should be logically framed: In order to survive, Russia needs a federal democracy and a robust economy; with no democratization on the horizon and economic conditions deteriorating, the federal structure will become increasingly ungovernable…

To manage the process of dissolution and lessen the likelihood of conflict that spills over state borders, the West needs to establish links with Russia’s diverse regions and promote their peaceful transition toward statehood.

Even more alarming is Bugajski’s argument that the goal should not be self-determination for breakaway Russian territories, but the annexing of these lands to other countries. “Some regions could join countries such as Finland, Ukraine, China and Japan, from whom Moscow has forcefully appropriated territories in the past.”

It is, needless to say, impossible to imagine anything like this happening without sparking a series of conflicts that could mirror the Yugoslav Wars. Except in this version the US would directly culpable in the ignition of the hostilities, and in range of 6,800 Serbian nuclear warheads.

So who is Janusz Bugajski, and who is he speaking for?

The author bio on the Hill’s piece identifies him as a senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, a Washington, D.C. think-tank. But CEPA is no ordinary talk shop: Instead of the usual foundations and well-heeled individuals, its financial backers seem to be mostly arms of the US government, including the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the US Mission to NATO, the US-government-sponsored National Endowment for Democracy, as well as as veritable who’s who of defense contractors, including Raytheon, Bell Helicopter, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Textron. Meanwhile, Bugajski chairs the South-Central Europe area studies program at the Foreign Service Institute of the US Department of State.

To put it in perspective, it is akin to a Russian with deep ties to the Kremlin and arms-makers arguing that the Kremlin needed to find ways to break up the United States and, if possible, have these breakaway regions absorbed by Mexico and Canada. (A scenario which alas is not as far-fetched as it might have been a few years ago; many thousands in California now openly talk of a “Calexit,” and many more in Mexico of a reconquista.)

Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine a quasi-official voice like Bugajski’s coming out in favor of a similar policy vis-a-vis China, which has its own restive regions, and which in geopolitical terms is no more or less of a threat to the US than Russia. One reason may be that China would consider an American call for secession by the Tibetans or Uyghurs to be a serious intrusion into their internal affairs, unlike Russia, which doesn’t appear to have noticed or been ruffled by Bugajski’s immodest proposal.

Indeed, just as the real scandal in Washington is what’s legal rather than illegal, the real outrage in this case is that few or none in DC finds Bugajski’s virtual declaration of war notable.

But it is. It is the sort of provocation that international incidents are made of, and if you are a US taxpayer, it is being made in your name, and it should be among your outrages of the month.

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Vladimir Putin visits Serbia, as NATO encircles the country it attacked in 1999 (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 171.

Alex Christoforou



The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Russian President Vladimir Putin’s official visit to Serbia.

Putin met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic to further develop bilateral trade and economic relations, as well as discuss pressing regional issues including the possibility of extending the Turkish Stream gas pipeline into Serbia, and the dangerous situation around Kosovo.

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Via RT

Russian President Vladimir Putin got a hero’s welcome in Belgrade. The one-day visit to the last holdout against NATO’s ambitions in the Balkans may have been somewhat short on substance, but was certainly loaded with symbolism.

Even before he landed, the Russian leader was given an honor guard by Serbian air force MiGs, a 2017 gift from Moscow to replace those destroyed by NATO during the 1999 air campaign that ended with the occupation of Serbia’s province of Kosovo. Russia has refused to recognize Kosovo’s US-backed declaration of independence, while the US and EU have insisted on it.

Upon landing, Putin began his first official trip of 2019 by paying respects to the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Belgrade from Nazi occupation in 1944. While most Serbians haven’t forgotten their historical brotherhood in arms with Russia, it did not hurt to remind the West just who did the bulk of the fighting against Nazi Germany back in World War II.

After official talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Putin visited the Church of St. Sava, the grand Orthodox basilica set on the spot where the Ottoman Turks torched the remains of the first Serbian archbishop back in 1594, in an effort to maintain power.

Sava, whose brother Stefan became the “first-crowned” king of medieval Serbia, was responsible for setting up the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church exactly eight centuries ago this year. For all its own troubles, the Serbian Church has sided with Moscow in the current Orthodox schism over Ukraine.

Russian artisans have been working on the grand mosaic inside the basilica, and asked Putin to complete the design by placing the last three pieces, in the colors of the Russian flag.

Whether by sheer coincidence or by design, Putin also weighed in on Serbia’s culture war, giving interviews ahead of his visit to two daily newspapers that still publish in Serbian Cyrillic – while the majority of the press, whether controlled by the West or by Vucic, prefers the Latin variant imported from Croatia.

Western media usually refer to Serbia as a “Russian ally.” While this is true in a historical and cultural sense, there is no formal military alliance between Moscow and Belgrade. Serbia officially follows the policy of military neutrality, with its armed forces taking part in exercises alongside both Russian and NATO troops.

This is a major source of irritation for NATO, which seeks dominion over the entire Balkans region. Most recently, the alliance extended membership to Montenegro in 2017 without putting the question to a referendum. It is widely expected that “Northern Macedonia” would get an invitation to NATO as soon as its name change process is complete – and that was arranged by a deal both Macedonia and Greece seem to have been pressured into by Washington.

That would leave only Serbia outside the alliance – partly, anyway, since NATO has a massive military base in the disputed province of Kosovo, and basically enjoys special status in that quasi-state. Yet despite Belgrade’s repeated declarations of Serbia wanting to join the EU, Brussels and Washington have set recognition of Kosovo as the key precondition – and no Serbian leader has been able to deliver on that just yet, though Vucic has certainly tried.

Putin’s repeated condemnations of NATO’s 1999 attack, and Russian support for Serbia’s territorial integrity guaranteed by the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, have made him genuinely popular among the Serbs, more so than Vucic himself. Tens of thousands of people showed up in Belgrade to greet the Russian president.

While Vucic’s critics have alleged that many of them were bused in by the government – which may well be true, complete with signs showing both Vucic and Putin – there is no denying the strong pro-Russian sentiment in Serbia, no matter how hard Integrity Initiative operatives have tried.

One of the signs spotted in Belgrade reportedly said “one of 300 million,” referring to the old Serbian joke about there being “300 million of us – and Russians.” However, it is also a send-up of the slogan used by current street protesters against Vucic. For the past six weeks, every Saturday, thousands of people have marched through Belgrade, declaring themselves “1 of 5 million” after Vucic said he wouldn’t give in to their demands even if “five million showed up.”

The opposition Democrats accuse him of corruption, nepotism, mismanagement, cronyism – all the sins they themselves have plenty of experience with during their 12-year reign following Serbia’s color revolution. Yet they’ve had to struggle for control of the marches with the nationalists, who accuse Vucic of preparing to betray Kosovo and want “him to go away, but [Democrats] not come back.”

There is plenty of genuine discontent in Serbia with Vucic, who first came to power in 2012 on a nationalist-populist platform but quickly began to rule as a pro-NATO liberal. It later emerged that western PR firms had a key role in his party’s “makeover” from Radicals to Progressives. Yet his subsequent balancing act between NATO and Russia has infuriated both the NGOs and politicians in Serbia beholden to Western interests, and US diplomats charged with keeping the Balkans conquered.

Washington is busy with its own troubles these days, so there was no official comment to Putin’s visit from the State Department – only a somewhat pitiful and tone-deaf tweet by Ambassador Kyle Scott, bemoaning the lack of punishment for $1 million in damages to the US Embassy during a 2008 protest against Kosovo “independence.” Yet as far as Western media outlets are concerned, why Moscow seems to be vastly more popular than Washington on the streets of Belgrade nonetheless remains a mystery.

By Nebojsa Malic


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Curious Bedfellows: The Neocon And Progressive Alliance To Destroy Donald Trump

The neocon metamorphosis is nearly complete as many of the neocons, who started out as Democrats, have returned home, where they are being welcomed for their hardline foreign policy viewpoint.



Authored by Philip Giraldi via

The Roman poet Ovid’s masterful epic The Metamorphoses includes the memorable opening line regarding the poem’s central theme of transformation. He wrote In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas corpora, which has been translated as “Of shapes transformed to bodies strange, I purpose to entreat…”

Ovid framed his narrative around gods, heroes and quasi-historical events but if he were around today, he would no doubt be fascinated by the many transformations of the group that has defined itself as neoconservative.The movement began in a cafeteria in City College of New York in the 1930s, where a group of radical Jewish students would meet to discuss politics and developments in Europe. Many of the founders were from the far left, communists of the Trotskyite persuasion, which meant that they believed in permanent global revolution led by a vanguard party. The transformation into conservatives of a neo-persuasion took place when they were reportedly “mugged by reality” into accepting that the standard leftist formulae were not working to transform the world rapidly enough. As liberal hawks, they then hitched their wagon to the power of the United States to bring about transformation by force if necessary and began to infiltrate institutions like the Pentagon to give themselves the tools to achieve their objectives, which included promotion of regime change wars, full spectrum global dominance and unconditional support for Israel.

The neocons initially found a home with Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson, but they moved on in the 1970s and 1980s to prosper under Ronald Reagan as well as under Democrat Bill Clinton. Their ability to shape policy peaked under George W. Bush, when they virtually ran the Pentagon and were heavily represented in both the national security apparatus and in the White House. They became adept at selling their mantra of “strong national defense” to whomever was buying, including to President Obama, even while simultaneously complaining about his administration’s “weakness.”

The neoconservatives lined up behind Hillary Clinton in 2016, appalled by Donald Trump’s condemnation of their centerpiece war in Iraq and even more so by his pledge to end the wars in Asia and nation-building projects while also improving relations with the Russians. They worked actively against the Republican candidate both before he was nominated and elected and did everything they could to stop him, including libeling him as a Russian agent.

When Trump was elected, it, therefore, seemed that the reign of the neocons had ended, but chameleonlike, they have changed shape and are now ensconced both in some conservative as well as in an increasing number of progressive circles in Washington and in the media. Against all odds, they have even captured key posts in the White House itself with the naming of John Bolton as National Security Adviser and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State. Bolton’s Chief of Staff is Fred Fleitz, a leading neocon and Islamophobe while last week Trump added Iran hawk Richard Goldberg to the National Security Council as director for countering Iranian weapons of mass destruction. Goldberg is an alumnus of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is the leading neocon think tank calling incessantly for war with Iran.

Meanwhile, the neocon metamorphosis is nearly complete as many of the neocons, who started out as Democrats, have returned home, where they are being welcomed for their hardline foreign policy viewpoint. Glenn Greenwald reports that, based on polling of party supporters, the Democrats have gone full-Hillary and are now by far more hawkish than the Republicans, unwilling to leave either Syria or Afghanistan.

The neocon survival and rejuvenation is particularly astonishing in that they have been wrong about virtually everything, most notably the catastrophic Iraq War. They have never been held accountable for anything, though one should note that accountability is not a prominent American trait, at least since Vietnam. What is important is that neocon views have been perceived by the media and punditry as being part of the Establishment consensus, which provides them with access to programming all across the political spectrum. That is why neocon standard-bearers like Bill Kristol and Max Boot have been able to move effortlessly from Fox News to MSNBC where they are fêted by the likes of Rachel Maddow. They applauded the Iraq War when the Establishment was firmly behind it and are now trying to destroy Donald Trump’s presidency because America’s elite is behind that effort.

Indeed, the largely successful swing by the neocons from right to left has in some ways become more surreal, as an increasing number of progressive spokesmen and institutions have lined up behind their perpetual warfare banner. The ease with which the transformation took place reveals, interestingly, that the neocons have no real political constituency apart from voters who feel threatened and respond by supporting perpetual war, but they do share many common interests with the so-called liberal interventionists. Neocons see a global crisis for the United States defined in terms of power while the liberals see the struggle as a moral imperative, but the end result is the same: intervention by the United States. This fusion is clearly visible in Washington, where the Clintons’ Center for American Progress (CAP) is now working on position papers with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI).

One of the most active groups attacking President Trump is “Republicans for the Rule of Law,” founded by Bill Kristol in January 2018, as a component of Defending Democracy Together(DDT), a 501(c)4 lobbying group that also incorporates projects called The Russia Tweets and Republicans Against Putin. Republicans Against Putin promotes the view that President Trump is not “stand[ing] up to [Vladimir] Putin” and calls for more aggressive investigation of the Russian role in the 2016 election.

DDT is a prime example of how the neoconservatives and traditional liberal interventionists have come together as it is in part funded by Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire co-founder of eBay who has provided DDT with $600,000 in two grants through his Democracy Fund Voice, also a 501(c)4. Omidyar is a political liberal who has given millions of dollars to progressive organizations and individuals since 1999. Indeed, he is regarded as a top funder of liberal causesin the United States and even globally together with Michael Bloomberg and George Soros. His Democracy Fund awarded $9 million in grants in 2015 alone.

Last week, the Omidyar-Kristol connection may have deepened with an announcement regarding the launch of the launch of a new webzine The Bulwark, which would clearly be at least somewhat intended to take the place of the recently deceased Weekly Standard. It is promoting itself as the center of the “Never Trump Resistance” and it is being assumed that at least some of the Omidyar money is behind it.

Iranian-born Omidyar’s relationship with Kristol is clearly based on the hatred that the two share regarding Donald Trump.

Omidyar has stated that Trump is a “dangerous authoritarian demagogue… endorsing Donald Trump immediately disqualifies you from any position of public trust.”

He has tweeted that Trump suffers from “failing mental capacity” and is both “corrupt and incapacitated.”

Omidyar is what he is – a hardcore social justice warrior who supports traditional big government and globalist liberal causes, most of which are antithetical to genuine conservatives. But what is interesting about the relationship with Kristol is that it also reveals what the neoconservatives are all about. Kristol and company have never been actual conservatives on social issues, a topic that they studiously avoid, and their foreign policy is based on two principles: creating a state of perpetual war based on fearmongering about foreign enemies while also providing unlimited support for Israel. Kristol hates Trump because he threatens the war agenda while Omidyar despises the president for traditional progressive reasons. That hatred is the tie that binds and it is why Bill Kristol, a man possessing no character and values whatsoever, is willing to take Pierre Omidyar’s money while Pierre is quite happy to provide it to destroy a common enemy, the President of the United States of America.

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