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Just because it was Novichok: How London investigates poisoning of ex-spy

Photo: salisburyjournal.co.uk

The poisoning of former colonel of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the UK took place amid growing anti-Russian hysteria in the West and ahead of the presidential race in Russia. The British authorities are sure that Russia is responsible for the attack. British Prime Minister Theresa May has given Russia a few days to explain how Novichok poison, a military-grade nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union, happened to appear in the UK. «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 to get it into the hands of others,» she said.

Former Russian chemist, 83-year-old Vil Mirzayanov, who now lives in the United States, said that only the Russian government could have carried out the attack with such a deadly and advanced toxin. He was personally involved in the Novichok project in the Soviet times and he was the first to inform the world about that poison in the mid-2000s.

Some western sources claim that it was Russia’s revenge for Skripal’s espionage for the British intelligence. In 2006, Skripal was put in jail in Russia but in 2010, he was exchanged for Russian spies.

Yulia and Sergei Skripal at Zizzi pizzeria before the poisoning. Photo: twitter.com

British mass media are actively discussing the punishments London must be preparing for Moscow now that it has refused to reply to its ultimatum. «Moscow has nothing to do with the accident in Great Britain. Moscow does not accept unfounded accusations that are not based on evidence and a language of ultimatums,» Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

There are lots of mismatches in this story. For example, Mirzayanov claims that only Russia can produce the poison. In a book published in 2007, he specified its formula.

Cover of the book «State Secrets». Photo: twitter.com

Mirzayanov disclosed the Novichok formula. Photo: twitter.com

And there he said that Novichok was much stronger than VX or sarin and could be made from ordinary chemicals — matters one could find at plants producing fertilizers and pesticides. According to him, Novichok is a binary matter — you can make it by mixing two harmless substances and you can do it right before use. You can use Novichok as both gas and liquid. Just half of a gram of it is enough for a human weighing 50 kilos. The poison affects heartrate and breathing.

Member of Russia’s Federation Council Igor Morozov told RIA Novosti that this is only a theory: «You can make this poison only if you have a laboratory with special equipment and people who know how to do it. You can’t make it in your garage.»

In his interview to France 24, Mirzayanov admitted that Skripal could have as well been poisoned by somebody who had read his book.

Skripal and his daughter were found in a Salisbury shopping center just 13 km far from the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down.

The Defense Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down is only 13 km long from the site where the Skripals were poisoned. Photo: twitter.com

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The Defense Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down. Photo: twitter.com

One of the tasks of that laboratory, according to its website, is understanding the impacts of chemical, biological or radiological materials (CBR) is critical to the safety and wellbeing of UK Armed Forces. This includes understanding the physical risks to personnel in CBR-contaminated environments and developing mitigation and protection strategies to reduce potential casualties. Obviously, one can’t study the impacts of CBRs unless one has them. And Novichok is also a CBR.

The laboratory inside the closed state institution to study the impacts of chemical, biological or radiological materials. Photo: gov.uk

Skripal and his daughter were found on Mar 4. Later, police found traces of Novichok in Zizzi pizzeria, in Bishop’s Mill pub, in Skripal’s house and in the cemetery where his wife and son are buried. But nobody was affected except the policeman who tried to help Skripal. And what about the doctor who also was among the first on the scene: «The doctor, who asked not to be named, told the BBC she moved Ms Skripal into the recovery position and opened her airway, as others tended to her father. She said she treated her for almost 30 minutes, saying there was no sign of any chemical agent on Ms Skripal’s face or body. The doctor said she had been worried she would be affected by the nerve agent, but added that she «feels fine».

According to Home Secretary Amber Rudd, more than 200 witnesses have been identified and British police are looking at 240 pieces of evidence in the framework of their investigation. But as many as 10 days have passed since the accident and they are still unable to say who poisoned Skripal and his daughter, how he or she did it and where the poison was from.

British mass media have two stories: either the poison was in the bouquet Skripal had received from a friend of his wife and took to her grave before going to the Salisbury shopping center or it was on the handle of Skripal’s BMW.

One of the scenarios is that the poison was on the handle of Skripal’s BMW. Photo: twitter.com

And nobody says that Russia has long destroyed its chemical weapons in line with tis international obligations under the control of UN observers.

In the meantime, British Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered the immediate expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats believed to be involved in espionage. She said that the Kremlin had responded with «sarcasm, contempt and defiance» to the 24-hour deadline the government set on Monday for explaining the attack on Skripal. «Their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events. There is no alternative conclusion other than the Russian state was responsible for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter. It was unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom», May said.

She also said the royal family and government ministers would boycott this summer’s World Cup soccer tournament in Russia. And she also called for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council to update members on the nerve-agent investigation.

Something like this happened after the alleged chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria: nobody cares any longer what actually happened there and who was actually responsible for the incident. The main thing for the world community is that the «criminal» has been found and now it has just to consider how to punish it.

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