Who was behind the Novichok poisonings?
On Sunday 4th March, 2018, a former Russian Intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found on a bench in a catatonic state in the town of Salisbury. It has subsequently been found that the pair were poisoned. After many weeks of treatment the Skripal's recovered from the poisoning and have subsequently gone into protective custody.
On the 30th June 2018 Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess were both found unconscious at a house in the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire. The pair were rushed to hospital and it was later revealed that they had also been poisoned with the same type of nerve agent "Novichock" that was used in the Skripal poisoning. The house they were found in is approximately eight miles from the Skripal's house in Salisbury. Sadly Dawn Sturgess died as a result of the poisoning on July 8th 2018.
The police have been investigating the link between the two poisonings and it has been reported that they have identified a number of suspects through CCTV and travel records. Those suspects are reportedly Russian.
Since news broke of the Skripal poisonings it has been widely suspected that the Russian intelligence services were behind the attack due to the similarities with the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. In that case it was found that two Russian "agents" Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun were responsible for slipping radioactive material called "Polonium 210" into Alexander's tea at the Millennium hotel in Grosvenor Square. A lengthy investigation concluded that it was a "strong possibility" these men were acting on behalf of the Russian FSB.
State sponsored assassinations are difficult to prove definitively, and that is by design. The Russian government has a long history of using assassinations as a tool to silence their critics. Two examples that come to mind are the assassination of Leon Trotsky with an ice pick in 1940 and the assassination of Georgi Markov in London using a special umbrella that fired a poisoned dart into his leg in 1978. Both of those assassinations were directly linked to the Russian Intelligence services of their time. In the case of Georgi Markov, the Bulgarian Intelligence services were used as a "cut out" for the plot. A "cut-out" is spy parlance for a mutually trusted intermediary.
Also one of our podcast guests, former DSS CounterTerrorism agent Fred Burton, worked several cases in which the KGB had been linked to a number of assassinations. In Fred's excellent book "Ghost" he recounts the investigation into the death of Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and US Ambassador Arnold Lewis Rapheli, who were both killed as the Presidential plane "PAK-1" mysteriously crashed. In that case it was discovered that a nerve agent incapacitated the flight crew resulting in the crash. The nerve agent used was reported linked to the then KGB. The reason for the assassination was retaliation for the Presidents support of US backed forces fighting the Russian's in Afghanistan.
Its also worth noting that a large number of critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin have been killed. In 2015 the popular leader of the opposition party and Putin critic Boris Nemstov was shot and killed by an unknown gunman. In 2009 Human Rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov was gunned down on the streets of Moscow. A trainee journalist Anastasia Barburova, who was with Markelov was also killed by the same unidentified gunman. Also in 2009 another Putin critic Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died whilst he was in police custody. He was allegedly subject to a brutal beating and then denied medical treatment. In 2006 journalist Anna Politkovskaya who had just published a book "Putin's Russia" which accused Putin of turning the country into a "police state". was killed She was shot to death outside her apartment. Five men were arrested for the crime and the judge ruled it a contract killing after it was discovered that the men had been paid $150,000 by "persons unknown".
The list of Putin critics who have died under suspicious circumstances goes on and on. Yet it has hard to directly link any of them to the man himself, but he is clearly benefiting from those deaths. Firstly he gets the critics out of the way, secondly it makes him appear "strong" and thirdly it gives future critics pause for thought.
It will be interesting to see how the Novchok poisoning investigation pans out. I suspect like the Litvenenko case and the others I have mentioned, that the killers will be linked to Russia and there will not be enough evidence for a definitive link to Putin and the Russian intelligence services. This will undoubtedly leave room for speculation, like the Russian media's ridiculous claims that some how the UK government's chemical weapons research facility "Porton Down" was responsible due to its close proximity to the site of the original poisoning. But what do the UK government have to benefit from poisoning the Skripals? Nothing. What does Putin? Another critic is silenced. It makes him look strong and it will give pause for thought for any future defectors and spies to work with the British. So for Putin it really is a win. At least it appears that way from here.
If you are interested in this case, please check out the five podcasts I recorded a few weeks after the poisonings.
I hope to record more podcasts on this as soon as more information comes to light.
Thanks for checking this out.
All the best