On 4 March, a retired spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, fell ill after being poisoned with a rare nerve agent; and DS Nick Bailey the first officer to attend them, became seriously ill shortly after. The nerve agent appears to have been placed on the door handle of their home.
This is an issue of importance because of the ramifications of one country conducting an assassination on another’s territory, using a banned chemical nerve agent. I believe that Russia was responsible; and so do the 28 countries who expelled Russian diplomats in response.
The police investigation, led by the Counter-Terrorism Police, has reported that a rare nerve agent, called Novichok, produced in Russia, was the weapon. This has been verified by the inspectors from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, who inspect breaches of the ban. Novichok was only ever produced by Russia. It is not material available to criminals, which suggests a state-led operation. Russia’s response to suggest this is “fake news” indicates their refusal to engage with the Prime Minister’s request for information.
The Salisbury attempted killings happened a few weeks before the first round of Russia’s Presidential election and a few days after President Putin showed films of Russian nuclear weapons hitting the United States.
The attack echoes the killing of the defector, Alexander Litvinenko, a former member of Russia’s FSB, by Russian operatives using Pollonium 123. Mr Skripal is one of a number of people who are regarded as traitors to Russia.
Indeed, Russia is accused of over 30 state-sponsored assassinations of dissidents and defectors in other countries; regularly stages military incursions (flights of fighter jets into other countries’ airspace, including the UK); shot down flight MH17 over the Ukraine in 2015 and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean region. So, there is a pattern of aggressive behaviour, which has extended to cyber warfare.
The Prime Minister was right to expel 23 Russian diplomats; and to accept the Magnitsky amendments to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill. (Magnitsky targets the assets of individuals found to be acting against the UK). Labour supports this step, and Jeremy Corbyn has supported the expulsion of Russian spies.