As Tensions Escalate What’s the Latest in The Sergei Skripal Poisoning?
As international tensions escalate and the balance of world peace seems to be at play, what is really happening in the Sergei Skripal poisoning?
On March 4, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia fell ill on a bench in the city of Salisbury, England. Skripal and his daughter then were admitted to a hospital in that city. The latest report said that the father-daughter pair had entered a stable condition. Yulia is reported to be faring better and is now conscious and talking.
What happened to Skripal and his daughter is turning into an international incident with implications for the balance of world peace. England and Russia accused each other of masterminding the poisoning of 66-year-old Sergei Skripal. Skripal was initially jailed in 2006 in Russia for crimes related to acting as a double agent for the U.K. and turning on Russia. Skripal was released four years later. Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May accused Moscow of attempting to kill its former agent by using a military grade nerve agent called Novichok. Moscow hit back by claiming accusations against Russia were a”grotesque provocation,” engineered by the American and British security services.
Britain and its Western allies stand by their claim that Russia is likely to blame. Russia and the U.K. along with U.K. allies including the U.S. expelled each other’s diplomats. The investigation of Skripal’s poisoning is still ongoing. The most recent development of the inquiry, however, cast doubt on Russia’s involvement in this attack.
Can Britain prove the source of the nerve agent?
On Wednesday, scientists at Porton Down said they could not tell the origin of the poisonous gas A-234, allegedly used to attack the Skripals. In an interview with SkyNews, Gary Aitkenhead, head executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down Lab, stated that his team was unable to prove that Russia manufactured that nerve agent.
Aitkenhead said: “We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify that it was military-grade nerve agent.”
“We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to Government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to,” Aitkenhead added.
Aitkenhead declined to comment whether the lab had created or kept stocks of novichok and dismissed the idea that the novichok used to attack the former spy was from the lab. Aitkenhead emphasized that the lab’s task was only to provide evidence scientifically about the name of the substance, not to identify the country that produced it.
Aitkenhead’s statement was contrary to that of the U.K Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. The minister stated two weeks ago that the Porton Down lab officials told him that the nerve agent came from Russia.
Johnson then was under pressure for such a big lie. UK Foreign Ministry commented that he”misspoke.”
Where does Russia stand?
Moscow repeatedly asked to participate in an international investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and made requests for a sample of the nerve gas; both requests were rejected.
One Russian proferssor, Leonid Rink, stated that he believed the nerve agent used to poison the pair was not Russian-made. Professor Rink said that he was involved in the development of novichok and if it had been Russian-made novichok, the Skripals would have died immediately.
In another twist to the plot, the pets at Sergei Skripal’s home, one cat and two guinea pigs, are now dead. “When a vet was able to access the property, two guinea pigs had sadly died,” a spokesperson for the U.K. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement to NPR on Friday. “A cat was also found in a distressed state and a decision was taken by a veterinary surgeon to euthanize the animal to alleviate its suffering. This decision was taken in the best interests of the animal and its welfare.”
Scientists differ as to likelihood novichok was used
Last Wednesday, British police concluded that the highest concentration of the nerve agent used in the attack was found at Skripal’s home and on his front door.
Some experts claim that if the Skripals were exposed to novichok at their home, they would have been unable to go out for a walk and instead would have died within minutes. Reports claim novichok is ten times as strong as the nerve agent VX, which killed the half-brother of North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un last year at a Malaysian airport.
Alastair Hay, professor emeritus of environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds explained how he thought it was possible to survive a novichok attack but warned a lot was unknown about how the body responded to novichok. “It is possible he (Skripal) was being kept sedated for some time after the incident to ensure no overactivity in the brain was caused by the nerve agent, and to wait until the nerve agent was cleared from the body – though we don’t know if this is why he was unconscious,” Hay stated.
On Thursday, reports stated that Yulia said she was recovering from a “disorienting” episode in a hospital in Salisbury after the March 4 attack. In her first public appearance, she said she had regained her consciousness over a week ago and thanked the Salisbury District Hospital staff for their care.
What is the OPCW doing right now?
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is in possession of samples from the site where the pair collapsed and are analyzing the samples. Results are expected to be announced next week.
Less than a year ago, in a September 2017 report, the Director-General of the OPCW stated: “The completion of the verified destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons programme is a major milestone in the achievement of the goals of the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
He added, “I congratulate Russia and I commend all of their experts who were involved for their professionalism and dedication.”
And some questions remain unanswered (for now)
The OPCW held a closed-door vote on whether Russia should be allowed to be involved in the OPCW investigation. Russia lost the vote despite reports that China, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Algeria, and Iran backed the Russian motion. d.
Alexander Yakovenko, Russian ambassador to the U.K, said the Kremlin would accept the OPCW investigation as long as the organization provided sufficient transparency in their investigation.
Russia countered western allegations of their involvement in the Skripal poisoning with their own questions and accusations. Reportedly one of Russia’s first questions was, “Why has Russia been denied consular access to the two Russian nationals, Sergei and Yulia Skripal, that have become crime victims in the British territory?”
While the U.K. and its allies argue back and forth with Russia and its allies, citizens around the world wait anxiously especially in light of Russian President Vladamir Putin’s recent demonstrations of new advanced Russian weaponry. Putin recently declared that not only did he possess missiles capable of thwarting a nuclear attack, but Russia also developed offensive weapons that could travel undetected and strike the continental United States.
As tensions escalate in what many are calling the new cold war, let’s hope cries for diplomacy outweigh the cries for military action.