The Salisbury poisoning saga has gotten more and more confusing and uncertain as it has dragged on.
I don’t particularly even care: I’m just watching with baffled curiosity.
In the first instance, I expressed doubts about the story, on account of both the timing and the fact that Salisbury (and later Amesbury, where the secondary victims of the poisoning were) was so close to the MoD’s chemical warfare facility, Porton Down.
Even in that same article, however, I said that I also didn’t have any trouble believing that someone from the Russian state or Russian intelligence did poison the ex-KGB spy in Salisbury. I’ve never subscribed to the position held by a great many in counter-mainstream media realms: which basically seems to be that the Russian state is full of noble angels who can never, ever do anything dodgy.
As I said then, I tend to believe a number of assassinations of Russians abroad, including journalists, were sanctioned by the Russian state.
Putin himself was on record, from 2010, suggesting that any Russian traitors or defectors would be targeted at some time or another.
I thought, however, that the narrative of the Sergei Skripal case was too hole-filled to be taken at face value. Which it was – and still is.
The timing (right before the Russia-hosted World Cup; and also timed to act as a counterpoint to Russian accusations about staged chemical attacks in Syria) was too obvious, the location again (close to Porton Down) was too suspect, and the story just wasn’t working.
The misinformation that Novichok can only be produced in Russia is also still being parotted, despite the fact that there is most likely Novichok at Porton Down – five miles from Salisbury.
Also, when in recent days the British government released footage and identities of the two alleged perpetrators of the poisoning, my first response was to be sceptical still.
That has changed now, however – at least since the RT interview with the pair came out a day or two ago.
An interview that – presumably – was meant to counter the British accusations has, in fact, made me start to think Russian agents did go to Salisbury to carry out a hit on the Russian double-agent.
The men – named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – told RT that they had gone to Salisbury for innocent sightseeing on the advice of friends. It was just a coinicidence that it happened to be on the same day that Skripal and his daugher were allegedly poisoned.
That’s the story?
“Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town,” one of them said, providing one of the worst cover stories I’ve ever heard. They go on to talk about their enthusiasm for the Salisbury cathedral.
What’s odder is that they also say they may have passed by Sergei Skripal’s house by mere chance, but said they didn’t know specifically where it was. Which is a really odd thing to mention, particularly as it was unprompted. That reference almost seems to be designed to preempt any possible emergence of surveillence pictures showing the pair at that location.
As far as I know, no such footage has yet been revealed to show them at Skripal’s house.
The pair apparently made contact with RT to give their side of the story. They were interviewed by RT‘s chief editor, Margarita Simonyan, after apparently having her number and calling her directly.
British authorities believe the two men are from Russian military intelligence and that they travelled to London from Moscow, using false passports, in March.
That two Russian men were in Salisbury on the very same day that a Russian ex-spy was allegedly poisoned in Salisbury is problematic in itself: but that the pair then gave such a bad interview, with such a bad explanation for their presence in Salisbury, is just baffling.
Also, RT (Russia Today) isn’t some neutral, alternative broadcaster: it is a Kremlin-linked state broadcaster. Meaning that the two men appearing on RT was probably directly approved by the state. Why? The only answer I can think of is that they were simply willing to pedal this stuff to the domestic audience, regardless of the likelihood of it being picked up on by foreign media too.
This latest chapter just adds more confusion to what was already a confusing story.
When the announcement of the two Russians’ identities was made by British officials, my assumption was that Moscow would deny involvement and would maybe even spread the counter-story that the two figures surveilled by British authorities were a fabrication or that they weren’t Russian.
After all, the idea has been floating around for months on various platforms that some other party – Ukrainian agents, for example – might’ve targeted Skripal for the sake of framing Russia. But that theory doesn’t hold water anymore: as it would make no sense then for Russia to acknowledge these two individuals as Russians.
What I didn’t expect was for the state media broadcaster to interview the two men and have them openly admit to having been in Salisbury on that day.
If the two men were assassins sent to Salisbury by military intelligence, why would they be allowed to go on state media and give such a poor interview?
But, if they were innocent – and the Salisbury incident was a false-flag – then why would the two men bother speaking publicly on the subject, admitting to having been in Salisbury on the day of the Skripal incident and even going so far as to admit they probably passed by Skripal’s home?
That’s the part that makes me start to doubt that Salisbury was a false-flag.
This seemingly throws the whole thing wide open again, in terms of trying to understand what the true story is. Was it a false-flag carried out to blame on Putin? Or was it a genuine (attempted) hit-job by the Russian intelligence community?
If it was a genuine hit job, why did it fail and why was it so sloppy?
But, if it was a false-flag operation, why were the two Russians in Salisbury – and why have they now come out with such an unconvincing cover story?
It’s almost as if the truth is some combination of both scenarios – but that would make zero sense.
I mean, at best, all I can come up with (in terms of maintaining the false-flag theory) is the possibility that the two men were Russian intelligence agents sent to Salisbury either to assassinate Skripal or to make contact with him for some other reason – and that British intelligence, knowing the pair were in Salisbury, poisoned Skripal with a chemical agent from Porton Down, knowing that they could blame it on the Russian state and cite the presence of the two Russians as evidence.
But that’s ridiculously convoluted as a theory: and it wouldn’t explain why the British authorities waited six months to reveal the presence of the two Russians when – if it was a false-flag – they could’ve done so right away.
I’ve heard one suggestion that Moscow and RT are just ‘trolling’ the British government: and that the two men giving the interview was some kind of deliberate gesture of mockery. Many have argued that the Salisbury incident – and in particular the alleged use of a nerve agent – was a deliberate warning from Putin and Russia for Britain and other Western states to stop provoking Russia. In which case, it served a two-fold purpose: one being to target a Russian traitor, the other being to show anti-Russian agitators in Britain that Russia is willing and able to do such things on British soil.
But, even if this were true, I still don’t believe they would’ve done it so close to the FIFA World Cup in Russia – at a time when Russia was trying to be on its best behaviour.
There has also always been the possiblity that Russian agents did go after Skripal, but not as part of any direct state-sponsored operation.
Owen Matthews, writing in Newsweek back in March, considered the possibility that the botched job in Salisbury had been carried out by Russian agents, but not on Putin’s orders. ‘The more frightening possibility,’ he wrote, ‘is that the attempted assassination was the work of a Russian death squad operating with official impunity but on its own initiative. Putin has often been blamed for the murder of his opponents… But what if Russia’s president is not, in fact, an all-seeing puppet master, as some believe he is, but rather just an average autocratic leader in charge of an unruly and murderous gang of semi-rogue spies?’
There could also be rival factions or splinters within the Russian intelligence community. The story at present is still so confusing that practically anything could be possible.
Given that Skripal was a GRU defector to British intelligence – and his defection might’ve been responsible for a number of fellow Russian agents being exposed or harmed – Salisbury might’ve been a revenge attack by intelligence agents based on a personal vendetta. Perhaps one that was implicitly, but not explicitly, endorsed by Putin.
That’s probably the best explanation at present.
But I’m not entirely sold, either way. And there’s still the problem of Salisbury being so close to Porton Down.
It is even possible that some elements of Russian intelligence have been compromised by some other, external party. The world of espionage and spycraft is convoluted and treacherous, its dynamics often confusing and incomprehensible to mere ‘civilians’ trying to understand things from the outside.
We have no idea. Stuff goes on all the time in that shady world that we don’t ever hear about – and that we would struggle to understand if we did. There’s no way Skripal is the only double-agent or defector to have been targeted by an intelligence agency on foreign soil – one assumes such things happen more often than we hear about, whether it’s a Russian affair or something involving other countries and intelligence agencies.
The difference in this case is the sloppiness of the job and the use of chemical agents which were judged to have put members of the wider public at risk.
Anyway, if anyone has a workable theory on what the truth of the Salisbury incident is/was, feel free. In the meantime, this ‘saga’ is no doubt going to rumble on for a long time.