Russia had long been hoping that the EU may gradually put to an end its sanctions policy. It is still very dependent on trade with the block. It would be insane for Russia to do anything that could threaten the current Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, especially given that the US, with the support of a number of EU countries mainly from Eastern Europe, has been putting pressure on the EU to abandon the project. But Germany, determined to ensure its supply of cheap gas, has so far resisted such calls.
Predictably, the EU has sided with the UK and is officially demanding explanations from Russia concerning its novichok programme – which only makes any sense if Russia was in some way involved in the Salisbury attack, definitely not if it genuinely ceased the production and storage of the nerve agent in the 1990s, as documented by the OPCW!
Could other agents of the Russian state be responsible?
It is also entirely unrealistic to imagine that leading members of the Russian secret service agencies may have acted autonomously and ordered the Salisbury attack without consulting their superiors and not realizing how much damage it would have on Russia’s and Putin’s international reputation. They live in the world of the Russian state elite, continually exposed to its way of thinking, and not cocooned in some fantasy world of their own – unlike many Western politicians and journalists who apparently still live with the image of James Bond-like characters fighting against evil Russian agents!
Any significant agent of the Russian state would be fully aware of the displeasure that a Salisbury-type attack would trigger among the leadership. Supposing players within the Russian state did carry out the attack, it could only be construed as a hostile act towards President Putin and his team.
No sense for Russia to kill Skripal abroad rather than in Russia
This is not a simple case of a former spy-turned-traitor being “executed”. The attack leaves a deliberate Russian “signature” (there is no other reason for using novichok rather than a more discreet or classical weapon) and was carried out on the soil of a foreign country, the United Kingdom, which in spite of the Brexit process remains a highly significant player on the international stage. Whoever the perpetrators may be, they would have foreseen that any improvement in relations between Russia and its Western neighbours would be seriously jeopardized as a consequence.
But what makes Russian involvement even more absurd is the fact that Alexander Skripal was officially released and allowed to emigrate as part of a spy swap. Why would the Russians have waited another eight years before killing him in another country, with the terrible diplomatic consequences that would ensue, when he could have been much more easily liquidated while still in Russia, in a manner that would give would-be defectors an even clearer warning that there is “no way out for traitors”.
Would Russia give up the chance of other spy swaps?
Furthermore, a spy-swap deal implies that the parties involved agree to give up all claims pertaining to the released individuals. In other words they will not try to recapture or kill them, which would amount to a breach of the agreement. A country reneging on such a deal would no longer be trusted for any similar arrangements in the future. Is it reasonable to believe that the Russian government, or any top secret service official in Russia, would be prepared to sacrifice Russia’s chances of making any new spy-swap deals with its Western partners in the future? This is not just unlikely, it is the pinnacle of absurdity! Sadly, Western political leaders and mainstream media are quite happy to believe and propagate such nonsense.
Goal of attack: outrage against Russia
The attack itself does not seem to bear the mark of professional Russian agents. The daughter of the former double agent suffered the same fate as her father. It is only a matter of circumstances that many others were not seriously injured. It is like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut! And the main target, Sergei Skripal, is – weeks later – still reported to be alive! Either it was some very sloppy attack carried out by non-professionals, or the attack was deliberately not confined to Mr Skripal in order to provoke even greater outrage against Russia.
Boris Johnson has apparently recently adapted his interpretation of Russian intentions to take account of these facts. He now claims it was probably specially timed just before the presidential election, “to conjure up in the public imagination the notion of an enemy”. So the Russian president supposedly deliberately provoked British outrage to help him win the election! The Foreign Secretary seems to be completely out of touch with reality. It has long been common knowledge that Vladimir Putin would win with a landslide anyway. Would he wish to cause himself and his country enormous trouble for absolutely no gain at all?
What is Russia’s past record?
We are told there is “a pattern” of state-sponsored assassinations or deaths in unusual circumstances of political opponents, critical journalists and secret service defectors. Deaths attributed to President Putin have included the journalist Politskaya, the political opponent Nemtsov, the accountant and lawyer Magnitsky, the former agent Litvinenko and even the oligarch Berezovsky. In all these cases, the incrimination of the Russian state is based on rather flimsy evidence. The argumentation here is circular: in each case the belief in the Russian government’s responsibility is strengthened by the existence of the other stories. But if none of the stories are true, then the whole argument collapses.
The Litvinenko case does bare a similarity to the current one. Instead of the nerve agent novichok, Litvinenko was poisoned by radioactive polonium, a substance very difficult to obtain and produced only by a few countries – such as Russia – with a nuclear weapons industry. In both cases, it is highly unlikely that the Russian state would choose to leave a “made in Russia” signature on the poison used, with only one major outcome – the poisoning of Britain’s relationship with Russia.