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March 19, 2018 | by  | in News |
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Ex-Spy Poisoned

On the morning of Sunday 4 March 2018, ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury, England. The two were found to have been poisoned with a chemical nerve agent, and are currently in critical condition in a local hospital.

Sergeant Nick Bailey of Salisbury Police Force is thought to have been affected by the same substance as the Skripals, and also remains in hospital care.

A Russian intelligence officer by trade, Mr Skripal was found guilty in 2004 of being a double agent and spying for British intelligence. He was subsequently jailed in Russia for high treason before being exchanged in a spy swap for the Russian sleeper agent “Anna Chapman” in 2010.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that the agent used was one of the so called “Novichok” nerve agents, a group of exceptionally toxic substances developed by the USSR. They are rumoured to be several times more lethal than the nerve agent “VX” that was used to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.

Whilst Britain has so far refrained from explicitly pointing the finger at Russia, the case does have suspiciously similar characteristics to the assassination of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with the extremely rare element Polonium210 in 2006, likely on the orders of the Russian Government according to a British judge presiding on the case.

The response from Westminster has been fairly measured, with Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warning that if any evidence of Russian culpability in this event is discovered the UK would respond “robustly”. He went on to say that “whilst I am not pointing fingers at this stage … Russia is a malign and disruptive force”. This was followed up with the threat that the British football delegation could boycott the 2018 FIFA World Cup being held in Russia.

On Monday 12 March Prime Minister May issued a rather blunt warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin, informing him he had 48 hours to come up with a credible reason why this was not the work of Russia or there would be repercussions.

“We will consider a full range of measures which might include things like sanctions, expelling diplomats, et cetera. But those will be discussed further by the British Government and British Parliament before any decisions are made.”

On Tuesday, UK time, this deadline passed with no official Russian response and as of the 15th of March the British government has decided to expel 23 Russian Diplomats.

May went on to say that the two most likely explanations are either that this was a state sponsored attack on Britain by Russia, or that Russia has lost control of some of its Chemical Weapons stockpile.

The British Home Secretary Amber Rudd has chaired a meeting of COBRA (the emergency committee for the UK government) to analyse the situation, and specialist military units have been deployed to Salisbury to assist in the investigation.

Britain’s allies have also offered words of support with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying the United States stands in solidarity with the UK, and French President Emmanuel Macron echoing similar sentiments.

Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations, said on Wednesday 13 March that the United States believes Russia is responsible for the attack, and recommended the U.N. Security Council to take action.

New Zealand media were invited to the British Embassy in Wellington on Tuesday 13 March, where they were informed that Britain had made overtures to the New Zealand Government in supporting its possible reprisals against Moscow.

Winston Peters, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, has released a statement saying “We share and support the concerns expressed by other nations about such use of chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons as a tool of war, or for murder or assassination is totally repugnant, and this incident is an affront to global rules and norms. As New Zealand has stated on many occasions, we are deeply disturbed at any use of chemical substances banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention”.

As Robert Service of the Hoover Institution points out in a piece for The Spectator, this could set a very dangerous precedent in terms of international diplomacy. The alleged assassination has the capacity to destroy any trust between the Russian and British states relating to spy swaps or similar agreements, and equally, it would also mark the families of these people as potential targets.

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