The case of incredibly shrinking Skripals: UK owes Russia explanation as poisoning mystery deepens

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. Former Editor-in-Chief of The Moscow News, he is author of the book, 'Midnight in the American Empire,' released in 2013.
The case of incredibly shrinking Skripals: UK owes Russia explanation as poisoning mystery deepens
Ever since the suspected poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal on British soil, for which the Kremlin has been duly blamed, the recovering pair has not been seen. Russia says the Skripals are being held against their will.

If ever the world needed the likes of a Sherlock Holmes to help solve a crime, now is certainly the time. But even London's legendary super sleuth would have trouble cracking the case of the missing Skripals – Sergei and his daughter, Yulia - and not least of all because their story is deeply fraught with political intrigue and skullduggery.

Indeed, not only does the British government refuse to share information on the case with Russia – despite the fact that it involves an apparent murder attempt on two Russian citizens - it has even refused to allow family members from visiting the victims in England.

Viktoria Skripal, the cousin of Yulia Skripal, has just had her UK visa application rejected for a second time, with no explanation provided.

Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, told Sky News that with regards to the fate of Yulia Skripal, "We have suspicions that she's been abducted, held against her will."

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were reportedly exposed to the deadly nerve agent A-234, also known as 'Novichok,'  in Salisbury, England on March 4.

Just days after the alleged poisoning, UK Prime Minister Theresa May promoted a conspiracy theory when she declared – without any evidence – that it was "highly likely" the Russian government was to blame for the incident. She then proceeded to put Moscow on notice, saying it had 24 hours to come clean. To which Vladimir Putin dryly responded that one does not normally give ultimatums to a nuclear power.

The fact is, even an amateur sleuth could detect some glaring inconsistencies with the official story that should have prevented members of the UK government, like Boris Johnson, from jumping on the crazy train against Russia. Consider, for example, the manner in which the Skripals were said to have been exposed to the nerve agent.

Detectives investigating the case "found the highest concentration of the nerve agent on the front door at the address," according to a report in The Guardian. Thus, we are expected to believe that after being exposed to the deadliest nerve agent to ever escape from a lab, Sergei and Yulia Skripla then spent the next several hours wining and dining at a restaurant in Salisbury before police discovered the pair unconscious on a park bench.

They are both said to be recovering from their experience.

To understand just how preposterous that sounds, it is necessary to know a bit about this thing called Novichok. This nerve agent, which is said to be 5–8 times more lethal than the VX nerve agent, produces symptoms in its victims within just 30 seconds to 2 minutes following exposure. A very unpleasant death – not a relaxing dinner - would typically soon follow.

Thus, if a military-grade nerve agent had really been used against the Skripals, how is it possible that the only resulting fatalities were that of the Skripal's pet guinea pigs, which reportedly succumbed to dehydration – not poisoning - after being neglected inside of his house for many days? Moreover, does such glaring incompetence bear the hallmark signs of a "state-sponsored attack," as the British government claims it to be?

Meanwhile, efforts to shed some light on the mystery have only produced more confusion. Last month, for example, Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Envoy to the UK, slammed a probe carried out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which he said "was conducted under control" of the British side.

"What we discovered is that the OPCW experts' work in the UK was not in accordance with the CWC standard procedures, but in bilateral format with the UK, which lacks transparency," he said.

Yakovenko emphasized what Russia has been saying all along: that the formula of the nerve agent A-234, also known as Novichok, "can be made and researched in any chemical laboratory."

Slowly but surely, that truth is being exposed.

Earlier this month, Czech President Milos Zeman admitted that his country had been involved in the production of Novichok.

"One has to conclude that our country produced and tested Novichok, even though [it was produced] only in small quantities and then destroyed," the Czech leader told the Barrandov TV Channel. "There is no need to lie."

Meanwhile, just this week, a number of German broadcasters and daily newspapers, including NDR and Die Zeit issued a report revealing that a Russian scientist had provided German intelligence with information on the development of Novichok following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It cited unnamed sources within the German foreign intelligence service, the BND.

The report went on to disclose that then German Chancellor Helmut Kohl ordered the BND to share the formula with Berlin's "closest allies," including the intelligence services of the US and the UK.

Thus, many NATO countries, including the US and the UK, have long been aware of the chemical makeup of Novichok. This inconvenient truth significantly increases the number of possible suspects who may have been tempted, for whatever reason, to murder the Skripals.

Framing Russia, which is certainly in fashion these days in Western capitals, would seem to rank high on the list of possible motivating factors.

Whatever the case may be, none of this bodes particularly well for the future well-being of Sergei and Yulia Skripal - wherever they may be - two Russian citizens who seem to have been swept up in a game of high stakes at a time when hysteria-driven Russia-bashing has become all the rage.

At the time of writing, NHS England said Sergei Skripal had been discharged from the hospital. However, that announcement will unlikely provide any details as to the whereabouts of Mr. Skripal and his daughter, who was released in March. Citing patient confidentiality, NHS said they were unable to comment on any details about the patients.

@Robert_Bridge

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