One would have to have been very deeply sequestered from the electronic and print media not to have repeatedly run into the spy poisoning narrative emanating from Britain. It is as ever very important to parse what we know from what is merely being alleged. All the more so in this case for the straightforward reason that the rush to judgement is in fact the most important element in this story so far. By doing so I also believe we can generate some very important conclusions that are entirely supported by the few facts that we currently have at our disposal.
A) We don’t know what poison was used.
We do know that the British government is claiming the following: That it was a nerve agent. That this nerve agent was of the Novichok class. That this class of nerve agent could only have been produced in Russia. That as many as 500 people are at risk of exposure.
B) We know that in the case of alleged chemical attacks that signatories to the OPCW treaty are legally obliged to follow the OPCW protocols. We know that both the British and the Russians are signatories.
C) We know that the British have not followed their legal obligations.
First by not making an officially submitted request to the Russian state, and the OPCW before moving to publicly declared conclusions. Second by not giving the Russian state 10 days to respond to an officially submitted request. Third by issuing a 24 hour ultimatum, certain to heighten tensions and media fervor. Fourth by not providing Russia with a sample of the alleged nerve agent.
Why would the Brits fail to abide by the protocols to which they had voluntarily submitted themselves? There is an answer to this question that is not speculation or hypothesis. Following their legal obligations requires them to wait for the evidence to be examined by an international body and Russia before making any public statements concerning culpability. Contravening their legal obligations on the other hand allows them to establish a narrative that runs ahead of the facts. Russian to judgement shall we say.
This is not speculation. This is not a theory. This is an unalloyed fact.
Why would they choose this strategy? Now we are in the realm of speculation. However not very far. By rushing to judgement they are able to take political advantage of the events while they are fresh in the public imagination. They are able to trade on the commonly held perception that they are strong on national defense and that the Labour party is weak. They are able to politically attack Corbyn for demanding that Britain abide by its treaty obligations and follow the OPCW treaty protocols. A position that he was certain to take as he has forty years of ‘form’ for taking exactly that position for all states including his own. That he would do so was as predictable as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. Along with that being a fact, yes it is also a metaphor.
We also know that the result of this rush to judgement has led to a 2:1 preference for the Conservative party over the Labour party on this issue. We know that this is a massive reversal of fortunes for the Conservative party. This has been referred to in the media repeatedly as their ‘Falklands moment’. There are in addition of course as we all know very many historical analogues to such a situation where the ruling party gains popularity by being bellicose. Again this was so predictable that to suggest this was their motivation for rushing to judgement while still speculation is as close to fact as speculation can ever get.
D) We know that Novichoks are reputed to be many times more lethal than VX or Sarin. We know that the British government claims that this was a nerve agent attack of the Novichok class.
E) We do not know that the Russians ever produced nerve agents of the Novichok class.
It is important to note that this is the fact of the matter. Yes it flies 180 degrees in the face of the governments entirely opposite categorical statement. The government instead says that only Russia could have produced this nerve agent. This is in fact the linchpin of their case for Russian guilt. This does not however change in any way the truth of the matter. We know this to be true because as recently as 2016 Dr. Black the head of Porton Down wrote a paper stating that no known Novichok had ever surfaced for study. We also know that the OPCW has never listed Novichoks as banned nerve agents.
The only possible conclusion that can be drawn from these facts is that Novichoks have been regarded by the foremost experts in the field as entirely theoretical. Officially to date for the OPCW this still remains the case.
Aside from the British government’s assertions the only contra-indication to this fact comes from Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. He claims to have the following information. That Iran conducted tests under the surveillance of the OPCW to see if Novichoks could be created from commonly held chemicals. Iran claims to have successfully done so and to have submitted their findings to the OPCW. The validity of this assertion is not difficult to prove or disprove and so will be known in short order one would assume.
E) We know that Vil Mirzayanov, a former USSR scientist, claims to have worked on the creation of Novichoks. Of them he has said that “With Novichoks you hold death in your hands”. He also claimed recently that one of his colleagues accidentally was exposed and died despite having been given an antidote immediately after exposure. We know that he emigrated to the U.S. many years ago where he continued to teach chemistry. We know that he published the results of his work on Novichoks, and these results have been available publicly for decades. We know that the chemical plant in Uzbekistan reputed to have worked on the creation of Novichoks was decommissioned by the U.S.
Again, we do not know that he or his lab was successful in the creation of Novichoks. Instead we are led by the facts to the conclusion that it has been uniformly believed by the foremost experts in the field that he was not successful. Otherwise Novichoks would long have been on the list of banned nerve agents at the OPCW.
We also know that so far no one has died from this alleged nerve agent attack. This is of course not proof of anything it is however incongruous with the alleged lethality of such a nerve agent.
Beyond this we do not know anything about the nature of the chemical agent that was used against Skrypal. In fact as yet we do not even know that a chemical agent was involved. Yes of course it seems highly likely that one was. It would be incredibly stupid of the Conservatives to create such a narrative without any basis in fact. That is however not proof despite its obvious likelihood.
Similarly however. It would be far beyond incredibly stupid for Russia to use a never agent that contaminated upwards of 500 people so as to kill a middling spy that they pardoned and swapped eight years ago.
Not that the following is exculpatory in any way but it is nonetheless true. The sanctity and safety of swapped spies is universally viewed within the intelligence community as sacrosanct. In very much the same way that diplomatic immunity is viewed as sacrosanct by the diplomatic community. For the very obvious reason of self-interest. These are the rules of the game and everyone within these community benefits from there being upheld, and everyone is harmed from there being broken.
F) We know that nerve agents are persistent and small doses will have extreme consequences for human health. We also know that the British government claims that as many as 500 hundred people may have been exposed.
Despite this they took a week to warn people to “wash their clothes”, and “use baby wipes to clean their jewelry, electronic devices and spectacles”.
The following is purely speculative but is nonetheless a logical conclusion to draw.
Either: The reason that the government took so long to alert the public is because they know from the analysis done at Porton Down that this chemical agent does not present a grave threat to those who may have been incidentally exposed.
Or: The nerve agent in question was never in the public domain at all and was instead contained inside Skrypal’s house.
If this is so why have they not said so? Again, this is not a fact but is the only logical conclusion to be drawn. It serves the narrative of maximum ‘shock and awe’, and covers up the fact that they made this mistake early on and never owned up to it.
Whatever the ultimate facts of this case turn out to be they matter far less than the behavior of the ruling Conservative Party of Britain. For purely partisan political advantage they have turned this incident into an act of war by Russia against Britain. For purely partisan political advantage they ignored their international treaty obligations in favor of ratcheting up tensions. For purely partisan political gain they have rushed to judgement eschewing the law, diplomacy, and statesmanship. The murder of the Archduke of Ferdinand had nothing on this so let us all hope that the end result is not also many times as bad.