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Did Russia Attempt To Kill An Ex-Spy In The UK With a Cold War Era Russian Nerve Agent?

Last Saturday an ex-Russian spy and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, England, victims of a suspected Russian nerve agent attack. The attack has set off an international incident and resulted in an emergency meeting at the U.N.

On March 4, Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, and his daughter Yulia collapsed on a bench in Salisbury. Both were unconscious after being exposed to an alleged cold war era Russian nerve agent known as Novichok. The pair remain in critical condition in a Salisbury hospital.

Russia denied accusations that it was behind the poisoning of the ex-spy and his daughter. The Kremlin stated it will only cooperate with Britain and any investigations if they receive a sample of the nerve agent that was allegedly used in the attack.

The U.K. and its western allies condemn Russia.

The U.K. meanwhile is outraged, British Prime Minister Theresa May stated,

“There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter — and for threatening the lives of other British citizens.”

She also concluded that the possibility of the Russia involvement behind the incident is “highly likely” and then set a deadline of midnight Tuesday for a response from Russia.

When Russia didn’t respond, Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats on Wednesday. Russia vowed to retaliate by sending British diplomats home soon.

US, Germany, and France voiced their support for its ally by also pointing fingers at Russia. In an emergency United Nations Security Council session, US ambassador to the U.N., Niki Haley, urged the world to take concrete actions against Russia. She forewarned Russia could one day use chemical weapons in any city anywhere in the world including right there in New York City.

Nerve agents: How dangerous are they?

Nerve agents are highly dangerous and potentially fatal toxins that damage the human nervous system. Nerve agents become more well known when the half-brother of North Korean President, Kim Jong-Un, was murdered at Kuala Lumpur airport, Malaysia last year. Kim Jong-Nam passed away 20 minutes after two women swapped VX nerve gas on his face.

Do the Russians still produce Novichok?

British P.M. May accused Russia of poisoning Skripal by using a military grade Russian nerve agent known as Novichok. The word “Novichok” means”newcomer” in Russian. The term refers to a group of advanced agents developed by Russia during the cold war in the 1970s and 1980s.

“There is a reason for choosing Novichok. In its blatant Russian-ness, the nerve agent sends a signal to all who may be thinking of dissent in the intensifying repression of Putin’s Russia,” said UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson.

Britsh Prime Minister Theresa May believed that there were two possible scenarios:

“Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

The international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons gets involved.

Contradicting May’s statement is a September 2017 report from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which declared that Russia had completed the destruction of their stockpiles of chemical weapons, as verified by the OPCW. The OPCW report 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. I congratulate Russia and I commend all of their experts who were involved for their professionalism and dedication. I also express my appreciation to the States Parties that assisted the Russian Federation with its destruction program and thank the OPCW staff who verified the destruction.”

The U.K. is sending a sample of the nerve agent used in Salisbury to the OPCW for independent verification. If the sample tests positive for Novichek the OPCW may try to request access to investigate whether Russia still has chemical weapons.

Is the Russian nerve agent, Novichok a banned chemical weapon?

It’s possible Novichok is not a banned chemical weapon. An article on Bloomberg reported that Novichok was not put on the list of the Chemical Weapons Convention’s (CWC) controlled substances. Additionally, Bloomberg reproted that “on Wednesday, Vladimir Uyba, head of Russia’s Federal Medico-Biological Agency, confirmed this, saying Novichok was not covered by the CWC”.

If the OPCW finds the Salisbury nerve agent is Novichok, Russia’s response will be crucial to the equilibrium of the international community.




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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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