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SKRIPAL AFFAIR: The Chilly Climate Change of a New Cold War

Tony Kevin
21st Century Wire

Introduction by David Macilwain: Former Australian diplomat and recent author of “Return to Moscow” Tony Kevin, submitted the article below to a mainstream Australian newspaper on Friday, following discussions with the opinion editor. As he described it – after detailed discussion with her of its proposed themes and conclusions before writing it, they said – “fine, it is an opinion piece, we have discretion to publish well-argued contrarian views.” But then, in what he sees as “chilling Orwellian censorship”, the paper found a “chemist” who “fact-checked” the article and found it “lacked a strong foundation”.

Tony Kevin then sent the article to John Menadue for publication on his blog “Pearls and Irritations” – to which he has contributed for many years, until recently when his “pro-Russian” views seem unacceptable even there. Menadue obligingly published my recent article calling for Australia to disengage from the US in Syria, but perhaps that was the limit; I also submitted an article for Pearls and Irritations yesterday, covering some similar ground to Tony’s, but was declined on the basis that “some of the language and claims seem a bit over the top and without hard evidence”.

I think we could say that about HMG in the UK, though more convincingly – some of their language and claims are extreme and highly disturbing, and lacking in any substantial evidence whatsoever. But as Tony says: “This is the climate of renewed Cold War in which we now live. It is very worrying.”


Skripal investigation. Salisbury, UK. (Photo: Twitter)

Article by Tony Kevin:

Skripal Affair: Western allies line up behind UK, but still many questions

With the dramatic UK decision to expel 27 Russian diplomats, because Russia rejected Theresa May’s ultimatum to come clean on what they know about the origins of the nerve gas used in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, the Cold War Redux – a process rather than a fixed state of affairs – just got several degrees hotter. Major Western allies have now lined up in solidarity with UK, but there are still many questions as to the facts.

In this murky affair, there are layers of potential false-flag complexity. In the end, it comes down to which government one chooses to believe about this – the British or the Russian.

Most Russian citizens who follow politics believe that this latest violent crime on British soil, involving Russian emigres as victims, is an anti-Russia provocation, instigated by Western covert action agencies out to incriminate the Putin Government and to demoralise the nation in the final days before Russia’s presidential election on 18 March..

These Russians say that it will have the reverse effect, consolidating voter support for Putin as the safest pair of hands in a time of increasing hostile Western pressure on Russia, and drawing support away from his two most serious legal contenders, the communist oligarch Pavel Grudinin and the Western-leaning liberal Ksenia Sobchak.

Putin’s reported ‘70/70’ aspiration – more than 70% of the vote in a 70% turnout – now looks achievable, stirred up by Russian voter anger against Theresa May’s ultimatum and sanctions, now supported by US, France and Germany.

Putin haters are saying that maybe Putin foresaw and planned this all along: A cruel and clumsy Russian assassination attempt in Britain against a former Russian spy turned traitor, triggering predictably indignant Western counter-measures, in turn triggering Russian voters’ closing of ranks around Putin, who does not care how much damage he does to global security?

To me, such convoluted conspiracy scenarios do not fit with my assessments of Putin and of the Russian people. But this is only my opinion.

Let us consider known facts. Most importantly, questions about the provenance and current availability of the nerve agent reportedly used:

Former British Ambassador to post-Soviet Uzbekistan (2002-2004) turned dissident commentator, Craig Murray, wrote a piece this week about the lethal Soviet nerve agent claimed by May to have been used:

In 2016, Dr Robin Black, a senior scientist at the UK’s only chemical weapons facility at Porton Down, a few miles from Salisbury where Skripal had made his home, wrote in a prestigious scientific journal that evidence for the existence of Novichok (the reported latest generation of Soviet-era nerve agents) was scant, and their composition unknown. The only public information about these compounds had come from a dissident Uzbek Soviet military chemist, Vil Mirzanayov, who emigrated to US in 1992 and still lives there.

The Scientific Advisory Board of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) , a UN body based in The Hague , reported in 2013 that it had insufficient information to comment on the existence or properties of Novichok.

But Mirzayanov had written in an American specialist journal in 1995 that Novichoks are ordinary organophosphates that could readily be made at commercial chemical plants that manufacture fertilisers and pesticides.

It follows, says Murray, that there is no proof of current Russian origin for whatever nerve agent was used on the Skripals. Many others, not just the Russians, could have synthesised such a product.

Finally, says Murray, the Novichok program was developed at a chemical weapons site in Soviet Uzbekistan, in a laboratory which he himself had inspected as UK Ambassador and confirmed that it had been dismantled and all stocks destroyed in the post-Soviet period, and equipment removed by the American Government.

It is known that a Soviet scientist, Andrey Zheleznyakov, was accidentally exposed to a Novichok nerve agent in 1987 from a burst pipe at a secret testing facility in Moscow, was severely incapacitated, and died five years later.

The British Government refused to provide to the Russian Government a sample for analysis of the substance used to attack the Skripals. The Russian Foreign Minister accused them of bad faith in this.

Putin has in the past offered hostages to fortune, in saying repeatedly that treason by Russian sworn national security personnel is the worst of crimes, and that such traitors will eventually be punished , no matter where they have taken refuge.

Even now, days after the event, there is a complete UK Government news blackout on the medical condition of the Skripals. We do not know if they are conscious. We do not know what if anything they might be saying about who they think might have done this to them, or how, or why. We do not know how close to death they are.

Finally : Russians have noted that prior to or at the time of every major Russian prestige event intended to gain world respect – or at least a sense of normality in accepting Russia as a legitimate member of the world community – really bad stuff happens. Think Maidan Square uprising in Kiev in February 2014, just as Russia was running the Sochi Winter Olympics. Think Russian athletes’ doping scandals peaking just before the Rio Olympics, and again just before the Korea Winter Olympics. And now the Skripal Affair, peaking just before the Russian election and forthcoming football World Cup in Russia. . Too many coincidences, perhaps? Might unknown Western agencies be out to rain on Russia’s parades and lock in the renascent Cold War?

Many questions. And two very sick Russian people fighting for their lives in Salisbury.

***

Tony Kevin, a former Australian career diplomat and foreign policy analyst, served in Moscow 1969-71 and has visited Russia twice as an independent observer in recent years. His latest book, ‘Return to Moscow’, uwap.uwa.edu.au/products/return-to-moscow  was published by UWA Publishing in March 2017.

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