Eight years after double-agent Sergei Skripal was traded with Britain as part of a spy swap, traces of a nerve agent, ‘Novichok’, were found on his car door handle and at Zizzis, his favourite Italian restaurant in Salisbury.
This bungled assassination, claimed the British government on 14 March, was part of a Russian “ assault on UK sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the chemical weapons convention and a breach of international law … it constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the second world war … It threatens the security of us all” … and, “it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack.”
The evidence for ‘Novichok’s’ existence was first claimed by another double agent, “military chemist” Vil Mirzayanov. It is unclear whether he and Sergei were Russian spies working for British intelligence or freelancers, working for both of them or most likely, for themselves.
Let’s leave the murky spy world of who is working for whom aside and start at the beginning. Does Novichok actually exist? In 2013 The Scientific Advisory Board of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a UN body based in The Hague stated:
“The name “Novichok” is used in a publication of a former Soviet scientist who reported investigating a new class of nerve agents suitable for use as binary chemical weapons. The Scientific Advisory Board states that it has insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of ‘Novichoks “
The OPCW was so sceptical of the viability of novichoks that it decided – with US and UK agreement – not to add them nor their alleged precursors to its banned list.
Three years later Dr Robin Black, former head of the detection laboratory at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down and only a few miles away from Zizzis said:
“In recent years, there has been much speculation that a fourth generation of nerve agents, ‘Novichoks’ (newcomer), was developed in Russia, beginning in the 1970s as part of the ‘Foliant’ programme, with the aim of finding agents that would compromise defensive countermeasures. Information on these compounds has been sparse in the public domain, mostly originating from a dissident Russian military chemist, Vil Mirzayanov. No independent confirmation of the structures or the properties of such compounds has been published.”
Meanwhile, Ex-UK ambassador Craig Murray, to whom I am indebted for much of my knowledge on this subject, writes,
“…the British Government is claiming to be able instantly to identify a substance which its only biological weapons research centre has never seen before and was unsure of its existence. Worse, it claims to be able not only to identify it, but to pinpoint its origin.”
Nafeez Ahmed investigative journalist and Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Development states,
“Russia is the only state to have been certified by the OPCW as having destroyed its chemical weapons programme, including its nerve agent capabilities … The same is not the case for the US, Britain and Israel.”
For the first time in decades cross-party war-mongering love-ins seem to be of the past thanks to Jeremy Corbyn who has said:
“There is a history in relation to weapons of mass destruction and intelligence which to put it mildly. are problematic,”
Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the attack, but his patience in waiting for all the facts has caused rebellion amongst some Labour MPs.
Meanwhile Stephen Kinnock has led 20 Labour MPs in putting down a Motion in the House of Commons condemning Jeremy Corbyn for his stance on the Salisbury poisoning and criticising him for not ‘supporting’ Mrs May.
Does it surprise you that these Labour MPs form the last redoubt of the Blairite bombardiers? Show them a state-sponsored war and they are the are there in a flash, or more like Flash Gordon, eager for a fight with Ming the Merciless, Mongo’s evil ruler.
But let’s leave the last word to the Guardian editorial of 15 March 2018 as reason for why so many of us don’t buy printed newspapers anymore.
“The Prime Minister makes a compelling case for Kremlin culpability in the Salisbury incident and is right that such a reckless, hostile act by another state requires a robust response.”