At last, some proper information

Now this is more like it:

Two Russian nationals have been named as suspects in the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The men, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, are thought to be officers from Russia’s military intelligence service, the PM said.

The Metropolitan Police said the two men arrived at Gatwick Airport from Moscow on 2 March and stayed at the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, east London.

On 4 March they travelled to Salisbury – having also visited for reconnaissance the previous day – where Mr Skripal’s front door was contaminated with Novichok.

Officers believe a modified perfume bottle was used to spray the door.

The pair flew from Heathrow to Moscow later that night.

See, this is what was missing during the outrage 6 months ago: evidence. Instead, we had the PM telling everyone it was most definitely Russia behind the attack, based on “intelligence information” and the fact the substance was created in the USSR and a Russian lab the most likely source. Now we have two named individuals and their movements, the British government position looks a lot more credible. However, it’s come rather too late. Here’s the explanation why:

The BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera said he understood the authorities identified the pair “a while back” and “may also know their real names” and had hoped by not making this information public, they could intercept them should they continue to travel.

I don’t buy this. The Russians might have bungled this hit, but I doubt they let their assassins wander around the world willy-nilly in the immediate aftermath. I suspect it’s more likely they were told to sit tight in Moscow for at least a year. I’m more inclined the reason this is being released now is because they’ve only just worked all this out, and didn’t have half this information back in March. This is interesting though:

Police said Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley were later exposed to Novichok after handling a contaminated container, labelled as Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume.

Mr Rowley told police he found the box containing the small bottle and an applicator – all found to be counterfeit – in a charity bin.

He tried to put the two parts together and got some of the contents on himself. His partner Ms Sturgess applied some of the contents to her wrists and became unwell.

Again, this sort of information – how, where, and when – is important when establishing credibility. Thus far, this is the first time the public has been told anything other than “trust us”.

Speaking in the Commons, Prime Minister Theresa May said the government had concluded, from intelligence provided by UK agencies, that the men were part of the GRU intelligence service.

The poisoning was “not a rogue operation” and was “almost certainly” approved at a senior level of the Russian state, she said.

Sorry, but Theresa May has no way of knowing this. If anyone claims to know the intricate workings of the Russian state, including the degree with which government bodies wander off the reservation, they’re either lying or they subscribe to the all-seeing all-knowing Putin fallacy. The biggest problem I have with Putin ordering this attack is I don’t see any upside for him; yes, I’ve heard all the reasons multiple times, and I find none of them convincing. I’m also skeptical that when the Russian government gets its top assassins to knock someone off, they bungle it. There’s probably a lot more to this story than anyone outside of Russia knows, but I guess it doesn’t matter now.

He said there was little expectation that the pair would end up in a British court, but releasing the evidence would instead add pressure with the intention of “deterring Russia from doing something similar again”.

Oh yes, because the Russians are big on shame, it features large in their culture. For example:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters the names of the Russian suspects “do not mean anything to me”.

He seems rattled.

The CPS is not applying to Russia for the extradition of the two men, as Russia does not extradite its own nationals.

Indeed, it’s in the constitution. Funny how Russia occasionally looks after its citizens rather better than free, enlightened nations like the UK.

The UK will meet the UN security council to discuss the case on Thursday.

Mrs May also said Britain would push for the EU to agree new sanctions against Russia.

But BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale said many European countries would be “reluctant to tighten the screw on Russia”, fearing a loss of trade and energy.

Well indeed. Germany, for instance, has spent years sucking up to Russia and currently believe it is in their interests to side with Vladimir Putin over Donald Trump. Perhaps the real motivation behind Putin ordering a brazen Novichok attack was to see who would come to Britain’s aid, and who Germany and the EU would back. If so, it worked a charm.

Share

The British government: on the wrong side once again

This is pathetic:

The UK has suspended co-operation with the US over two Islamic State suspects.

Ministers had said they would share intelligence with the US that could lead to the men’s conviction, without opposing a death penalty sentence.

The two men are currently being held by Kurdish forces and the UK believes it cannot legally extradite them to face trial here.

This week it emerged that the US was preparing the ground to prosecute the men itself – and that it had asked the UK for information that would help convict them.

So what’s the problem? The men aren’t in British custody, the UK isn’t looking to try them, nor are they looking to extradite them. They’re simply sharing intelligence with an ally which could help with their prosecution. Now I can understand the British have abolished the death penalty, and I understand Britain doesn’t extradite people to places where they might be executed, but since when has the UK been obliged to withhold information as part of its opposition to capital punishment? If the British government has vital information on an American mass-murderer on trial in Texas, they’re supposed to keep it to themselves because he might be executed for his crimes? What’s the precedent for this, then? Is that the approach we took with Osama bin Laden?

Ah, here we go:

However the mother of one of the men has now launched a legal challenge to prevent such information sharing.

The Home Office has halted co-operation until a judge has had a chance to consider an application for judicial review.

Lawyers for the mother of El Shafee Elsheikh have now prepared detailed grounds challenging Mr Javid’s decision to share information with the US without a death penalty assurance – meaning a case could be before High Court judges in days.

They said the home secretary’s actions revealed “a clear and dramatic departure from the UK’s long standing international and domestic commitment to oppose the continuing exercise of the death penalty.”

If there is one group of people who wield greater influence than protected classes in western countries, it is the families of those protected classes once their son or brother stands accused of murder and other heinous crimes. Every time, you can be sure the government and their chattering-class supporters will bend over backwards to accommodate them. We saw this a few days ago when somebody named Faisal Hussain went on a shooting rampage in Toronto killing two and wounding thirteen, and the media fell over themselves to divine moral authority from the man’s parents, who wasted no time offering up excuses for their son.

Let’s not pretend this lawsuit is based on a principled opposition to the death penalty. It is a professional and coordinated exercise to let the government know that, no matter how heinous the crimes of a person may be, certain protected classes are off-limits for the usual treatment. What is most depressing is this can only work because there are enough ordinary people who, for a variety of reasons ranging from self-hatred to complete idiocy, support such stunts. What is even more depressing is this pathetic excuse for a government appears to be doing exactly what its sworn enemies are telling them to do. Contrast this with the contempt the government displays towards its own citizens, and you wonder, not for the first time, whose side they are on. If they can’t bring themselves to assist with the prosecution of notorious ISIS members because of a campaign launched by a gaggle of people who think they did nothing wrong and shouldn’t be punished, they’re not on my side, that much I do know.

Share

A Minor Incident in Toronto

Three days ago, a gunman opened fire in Toronto killing two people and injuring thirteen others. Oddly, the story disappeared from the front pages of the international press and in the BBC’s case remains buried in the list of regional news stories:

Canadian officials have identified the suspect in Sunday’s deadly shooting in Toronto as Faisal Hussain, 29.

I can’t think why this isn’t creating more media interest.

The Ontario Special Investigations Unit (SIU) said it was releasing his name due “to the exceptional circumstances of this tragic incident”.

And following serious pressure from the public who knew damned well there was only one reason why his name was being withheld.

In a statement released to various media outlets, Hussain’s family expressed their “deepest condolences” to the victims and their families for what they called “our son’s horrific actions”. ​

Since when have the thoughts of a murdering gunman’s parents been given airtime? It didn’t take long for Canadians to work out the statement was rather too professional in its presentation and timing:

The man who has presented himself as the point of contact for the family of Faisal Hussain is a professional activist who has reportedly committed himself to “framing a new narrative of Muslims in Canada” and creating a “national political movement.”

Shortly after the Ontario Special Investigations Unit revealed the identity of the Danforth shooter as 29-year-old Faisal Hussain, a news release was sent out to select media attributed to the “Hussain Family”.

Not that you’d learn this from the BBC. We do get this, though:

They said their son suffered from serious mental health challenges and had struggled with untreatable psychosis and depression most of his life.

Oh right, he was mentally ill. Sure he was. What are the chances nothing indicating this will appear on his medical records, and instead he had a healthy interest in ISIS, terrorism, and jihad? I’d say they’re high, but we’re never going to find out, are we? The Canadian authorities will be happy enough to lie through their teeth and parrot his parents’ spokesman in dismissing it as a terrible tragedy, rather like a tree falling on someone’s head in a gust of wind. Right on cue, here’s Canada’s PM:

Why, it’s just one of those things, isn’t it? Best we all move swiftly on. Even the folk in charge of the Eiffel tower can’t be bothered turning the lights off for this one. Perhaps, like me, they have jihad fatigue.

Share

And now it’s murder

Oh:

Police have launched a murder inquiry after a woman exposed to nerve agent Novichok in Wiltshire died.

Dawn Sturgess, 44, died in hospital on Sunday evening after falling ill on 30 June.

Charlie Rowley, 45, who was also exposed to the nerve agent in Amesbury, remains critically ill in hospital.

Theresa May said she was “appalled and shocked” by the death, which comes after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

Which comes four months after the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter. So, what are the likely scenarios here:

1. Putin ordered the Skripals murdered by Novichok, and four months later put the hit on a couple of nobodies in the same area. If someone – anyone – wants to come up with a plausible theory as to why he’d do this, I’m all ears.

2. Putin ordered the Skripals murdered by  Novichok, and somehow two nobodies ran into the same stuff by accident four months later. As Jason Lynch (who, incidentally, should be leading the investigation) points out in the comments, this is not implausible and consistent with a nerve agent being trampled around the place. However, unless a clear link between the two cases can be established, e.g. a common location between each victim, it’s going to be hard to convince people – especially Russians – that this is the same case. So far, it’s not looking good:

In a statement, the Met Police said the possibility the poisoning of the Skripals and Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley are linked is a “clear line of inquiry”.

A spokesman said the investigators are “not in a position to say whether the nerve agent was from the same batch that the Skirpals were exposed to”.

He also said: “There is no evidence that (Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley) visited any of the sites that were decontaminated following the attempted murders of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March.”

3. The two cases are separate attacks, and nothing to do with Putin.

Combined with my skepticism over the initial attack, I’m going with No. 3. I don’t know what the actual cause is – someone gone rogue at Porton Down? – but hopefully now a murder enquiry has been launched, we’ll find out:

Mr Basu said the death “has only served to strengthen our resolve to identify and bring to justice the person or persons responsible for what I can only describe as an outrageous, reckless and barbaric act”.

He said: “Detectives will continue with their painstaking and meticulous work to gather all the available evidence so that we can understand how two citizens came to be exposed with such a deadly substance that tragically cost Dawn her life.”

Now I hope this is true. But I don’t have much confidence that, should the evidence start pointing in a direction which might cause Theresa May and her government considerable embarrassment, it won’t be buried without trace. I suspect the outcome of the investigation will be an inconclusive fudge with just enough wriggle-room to keep blaming Russia.

Share

Starichok

Well this is interesting:

A man and woman found unconscious in Wiltshire were exposed to Novichok – the same nerve agent that poisoned ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal, police say.

The couple, believed to be Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, fell ill at a house in Amesbury on Saturday and remain in a critical condition.

[T]here is no evidence to suggest either visited the sites that were decontaminated following the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in March.

Now the British government, and many on this blog, declared that the use of Novichok in the Skripal case indisputably meant the substance came from Russia and therefore Putin’s government was behind the attack. Indeed, this is the precise accusation Theresa May levelled at Putin, who laughed it off. As readers may recall, I believe May’s actions were hasty and the Russians’ flippant response was possibly an indication it was nothing to do with them. This was poo-pooed on the grounds that only Putin could order a Novichok hit and had every reason to want Sergei Skripal dead.

So in light of these recent developments, I hope someone has a plausible reason as to why Putin – for it must surely be he – now wants two more people in Wiltshire killed with Novichok. It’s going to be somewhat embarrassing if we discover there are people other than Putin playing with Soviet-era nerve agents in the UK, isn’t it?

Share

Europe’s choices over Iran

A response from Germany following Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that Europe can no longer count on the United States to protect it, urging the continent to “take destiny into its own hands.”

“It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands. That’s the task of the future,” she said during a speech honoring French President Emmanuel Macron, according to Agence France-Presse.

This will be music to the ears of many Americans, who are wondering why the US remains committed to defending Germany from…well, who? Russia? Germans have made it quite clear they prefer Putin’s Russia to Trump’s America, and who else is there? Oh, but wait:

German defense spending will fall far short of levels demanded by President Donald Trump’s administration for years to come, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s defense minister said.

Those levels are actually NATO commitments; Trump’s demand is merely that Germany meets them. The problem Germany has is that it is dependent on the US for security (assuming it is actually required) and hates it, but they don’t hate it enough to reach in their pockets and pay for it themselves. Like a spoiled teenager who hates the rules in their parent’s house, they don’t want to move out either because that would involve hardship.

What will be interesting is the response of Germany, France, and the UK to this:

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was in Moscow on Monday, as Russia tries to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive in the wake of Washington’s pullout, pushing it into rare cooperation with Europe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he was scheduled to discuss how to try to save the nuclear deal with Zarif, the Interfax news agency reported.

Zarif’s tour also took him to Beijing at the weekend and will see him visit Brussels later in the week, as the international backers of the 2015 accord scrabble to save it.

“The final aim of these negotiations is to seek assurances that the interests of the Iranian nation will be defended,” Zarif said at a news conference with Lavrov.

Lavrov, meanwhile, said Russia and Europe had a duty to “jointly defend their legal interests” in terms of the deal.

A few months ago, Russia was accused – perhaps fairly – of conducting a chemical weapons attack on British soil, and there were expulsions of diplomats and lots of tough talk from European leaders about solidarity with Britain. Then a few weeks ago Russia’s client in Syria allegedly used poison gas against civilians and everyone went mental, with Britain and France joining the US in launching missile strikes against targets in Syria. Russia was a pariah nation run by a gangster regime, we were told, so it’s going to be very interesting whether the commercial interests of European businesses consign all this rhetoric to the dustbin. It’s going to be particularly interesting to see what Britain does, given Boris Johnson and Theresa May’s recent criticism of Russia. At least nobody is pretending it’s about nuclear security any more.

Something the media has failed to mention is the difficulty of doing business in Iran even without US sanctions in place. I can’t find the link now (Google search results are swamped by recent developments) but a few years ago one of the big Chinese companies effectively walked away from an Iranian oil and gas project having utterly failed to make any progress, citing the intransigence of the locals as the primary reason. Anyone who has read the history of Iran, particularly the bit concerning Britain’s dealings with Mohammad Mosaddegh over BP, will get a clear idea that doing business there is fraught with difficulties, not least because the Iranians are severely tough negotiators. There has been nothing preventing Chinese, Russian, or Turkish firms making hay in Iran in the absence of American and European countries for decades, but they haven’t, and for good reasons.

One of the main problems facing western companies concerns the ownership of Iranian companies. As is to be expected under such a regime, pretty much every major company is in some way owned by the government or powerful individuals connected to it. In many instances it is the The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which controls the company. From Wiki:

IRGC first expanded into commercial activity through informal social networking of veterans and former officials. IRGC officials confiscated assets of many refugees who had fled Iran after the fall of Abolhassan Banisadr’sgovernment. It is now a vast conglomerate, controlling Iran’s missile batteries and nuclear program but also a multibillion-dollar business empire reaching almost all economic sectors. Estimates have it controlling between a tenth and around a third of Iran’s economy through a series of subsidiaries and trusts.

The Los Angeles Times estimates that IRGC has ties to over one hundred companies, with its annual revenue exceeding $12 billion in business and construction. IRGC has been awarded billions of dollars in contracts in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, as well as major infrastructure projects.

Last October Donald Trump sanctioned the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, independently of the nuclear deal. Leaving aside the difficulty of executing major projects in Iran without falling foul of US sanctions on the IRGC, can you imagine having an IRGC-owned company as a partner or contractor? Would they carry out the work as per the contract? To whom would you turn if they didn’t? It’s hard enough doing business in Russia with companies run by well-connected gangsters; now imagine what it’s like contracting with the private army of the Ayatollahs.

Major European nations risk creating an enormous political and security rift with the US over this Iranian nuclear deal, all for the benefit of a handful of companies who reckon they can make money in Iran. The way they’re talking, and the way it’s being reported, you’d think the money was already in the bank. It’s not, and probably never will be. Politicians should heed this point.

Share

The Twin Gambles of Saudi Arabia and Iran

Based on recent posts, some readers may get the impression that I am somewhat skeptical that Barack Obama deserves his Nobel Peace Prize, and I’d like to correct that. I think it was thoroughly deserved, for reasons implied in the following tweets:

Now to be fair this was a complete accident on Obama’s part, but by showing America’s enemies he was not to be feared while undermining its allies he somehow managed to get Saudi Arabia and Israel cooperating with one another on security and regional politics. Since then, Bahrain and the UAE have joined in. However you cut it, this is an impressive achievement even if it was wholly unintentional; for that alone he deserves his Nobel.

I suspect what’s happened is the civil war in Iraq that followed the disastrous toppling of Saddam Hussein, the rise of ISIS and the Syrian civil war, and the nastier elements of the Arab Spring (including the rise of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood) have shaken a lot of sensible Arabs into accepting some uncomfortable truths. Chief among them is the fact that it’s not Israel that is their greatest threat but the opposite side of the Sunni-Shia divide. For any Sunni, that makes Iran-sponsored Shia their gravest enemy.

For years it was Saudi Arabia, via its sponsorship of Wahhabist madrassas throughout the Muslim and non-Muslim world which was the main driver of radical Islamic terrorism, and many people quite reasonably asked why the US didn’t bomb Riyadh in the aftermath of 9/11 instead of Baghdad. The simple and honest answer was that the production from the Saudi oilfields was so essential to the functioning of the entire world (not just the US) that under no circumstances could it be interrupted. The second answer was that, backward and autocratic the ruling family was, the alternative was likely to be very much worse. Authoritarian strongmen always use the excuse of keeping the headcases from taking over to justify spending decades in power, but in the case of the Saudi ruling family it was probably true. A lot of Saudis supported the Taliban, thinking their way of governing was how things should be, and considered the house of Al Saud too liberal. Osama bin Laden’s biggest gripe with the US was that it stationed troops on Saudi Arabia’s holy sands before and after the Gulf War. He fell out with the Saudi government when they turned down his generous offer of defending Saudi with an army of lunatic jihadists he’d recruited in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets, preferring instead to use the American army.

It is said that for a long time the Saudi rulers would whisper to western diplomats pushing for reforms words to the effect of: “We want to, but we can’t right now or we’ll have a revolution. We need to move slowly, and only when ready.” These words might have been self-serving much of the time, but they were surely based on truth. Any attempt to really crack down on the financiers of radical elements in Saudi would have likely instigated a coup, although this doesn’t excuse the government spending billions exporting Wahhabism around the world. I’m tempted to believe there was some sincerity in their words because the new guy in charge, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is pushing through rapid and sweeping reforms aimed at weening the country off oil dependency, liberalising the society, and sidelining conservatives who preferred things as they were. Mohammed bin Salman has judged – rightly or wrongly, we’ll find out soon enough – that the majority population is ready to move away from tightly controlled, theocratic, Wahhabist rule and towards something resembling Kuwait or Abu Dhabi: hardly a liberal paradise, but a giant step in the right direction nonetheless.

This contrasts greatly with Iran which was in some ways the polar opposite. Rather than having a government that wants to reform but cannot because the people are hotheaded lunatics, the Iranians have a sensible population ruled by an ultra-conservative theocratic government which keeps a boot on their necks. If the Saudi government would have fled the country at any point over the past 15 years, the country would probably have fallen to extremists. Had the Mullahs done the same thing in Iran, it would likely have shifted very much towards liberalism. Despite both being sponsors of terrorism around the world for decades, it is this difference between the two countries now that is crucial, and explains why Saudi is being feted and Iran a pariah.

Mohammed bin Salman has gambled that the Saudi population is ready for reforms; the Ayatollahs are gambling they can keep ignoring Iranians’ demands for them. I suspect this will determine the shape of the Middle East over the next generation, rather than the outcomes on proxy battlefields in Yemen, Syria, or elsewhere. Obama backed one horse, Trump has backed another. History will show who was right.

Share

Story Changed

From the BBC:

The world’s chemical weapons watchdog is to meet in the Hague and discuss the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK.

The emergency session was called by Russia, who denies being behind the attack and wants the UK to share evidence.

But the UK government says the only “plausible explanation” is that Russia is to blame.

Yes, this is what the government said from the beginning. They took a sample, sent it off to Porton Down – an indisputable centre of excellence for chemical warfare – who identified the substance as Novichok, which could only have come from Russia. Yup, this is what I remember quite clearly. Oh, hang on:

On Tuesday the UK’s Porton Down laboratory said it could not verify the precise source of the nerve agent used against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Ah.

The laboratory, which has previously identified the substance as a military-grade Novichok nerve agent, said it was likely to have been deployed by a “state actor” but said it was not their job to say where it was manufactured.

Right, this is beginning to piss me off. Now Porton Down’s position is perfectly reasonable and doesn’t mean anything in itself – their job was almost certainly to identify the substance not to speculate as to where this particular batch may have been manufactured. But this is not what the public was led to believe. Within a day or two of Porton Down getting involved their name was invoked by government ministers who heavily implied it was their experts who confirmed it almost certainly came from Russia. So where did they get this idea from?

The UK says further intelligence led to its belief that Russia was responsible.

Now this isn’t unreasonable in itself and the intelligence may be 100% accurate. But this is not what we were told. Why is this only coming out now, a month after the event and several weeks after Russia was issued with ultimatums and threats, plunging us neck-deep into a diplomatic row we’ve dragged around thirty other countries into?

To me, there is a big difference between:

Our experts at Porton Down have analysed the substance and concluded it is a nerve agent of the Novichok family, and could only have come from Russia.

and:

Our experts at Porton Down have analysed the substance and concluded it is a nerve agent of the Novichok family. Intelligence sources say it could only have come from Russia.

Whereas I don’t doubt the impartial expertise of the chaps at Porton Down, British intelligence hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in recent years. What form does this intelligence take? How much was it subject to interpretation? How much political pressure was brought to bear on the analysis? The British government has implied the source of manufacture has been determined by scientific analysis rather than intelligence sources. In other words, they have mislead the public.

Here’s what I reckon’s happened:

The world’s chemical weapons watchdog is to meet in the Hague and discuss the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK.

The emergency session was called by Russia, who denies being behind the attack and wants the UK to share evidence.

As a member of the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Russia has the right to request an emergency meeting of the body.

Among other things, it wants to know what kind of evidence the UK has provided to the OPCW, which inspectors visited the site of the attack in Salisbury, who they met and where the samples are being analysed.

The OPCW expects to receive the results of its own independent laboratory tests within a week.

Until now, everyone has been led to believe the Russian connection was made by Porton Down. The independent testing by the OPCW is likely to confirm the substance is Novichok, but will not be able to say where it was manufactured. At this point, the Russians will ask those at Porton Down “Then how did you know?” Anticipating this, Porton Down has distanced itself from making any Russian connection, forcing the government to come clean.

I have said right from the start that Theresa May’s government has handled this affair spectacularly badly. They’ve rushed to judgement for political reasons without getting their ducks in a row. Probably the best thing I can say at this point is that it doesn’t surprise me in the least.

Share

Воскрешение

This morning I woke up to news that:

Yulia Skripal, the daughter of ex-spy Sergei Skripal, is improving rapidly and no longer in a critical condition, says the hospital treating her.

The BBC understands from separate sources that Ms Skripal is conscious and talking.

However Mr Skripal remains in a critical but stable condition, Salisbury District Hospital said.

Doctors said Ms Skripal, “has responded well to treatment but continues to receive expert clinical care 24 hours a day”.

Which comes as a bit of a surprise. A couple of weeks back we were told that this was a “weapons grade” nerve agent (as opposed to the sort you hand around at parties) and multiple times more deadly than sarin. Since then we’ve had the policeman who was exposed walking out of hospital, and now one of the principle victims is sitting up in bed, probably complaining about NHS food.

On Wednesday, police said the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent at the former Russian spy’s home in Salisbury.

Forensic tests show the highest concentration was found on the front door.

From what I can tell, the nerve agent was smeared on the door handle of the Skripals’ home. As a way of exposing someone to it, this seems risky. What if it washed off in the rain? What if the target wore gloves? What if a visitor turned up, taking the bulk of the poison away with them, and you end up killing the wrong person? Now I don’t know anything about murdering people, let alone with nerve agents, but there’s no denying this job was botched. Neither of the intended victims is dead and one seems to be making a reasonable recovery.

The whole thing sounds rather amateurish to me, something you wouldn’t normally associate with FSB assassins. Now Russians do botch jobs: if you’d have hired a chap to fix the electrics in a flat in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in 2007 chances are he’d have shown up with a carrier bag containing some ancient tools, two of which were lump hammers (the second one is his screwdriver), and a couple of weeks later you’d open up the junction box to find a fork in place of the fuse. But when it comes to knocking off political opponents at the behest of the president, Russians tend to get the job done properly. So it’s all a bit strange.

In addition, as I’ve already made pretty clear on this blog, I haven’t yet heard a plausible theory as to why Putin would order this hit and this method would be used. Various theories might work if it were one or the other, but the two combined leave us mainly with complex conspiracies which claim to know the inner workings of Putin’s mind and portray him as some kind of villain from a Batman film.

Now here’s what worries me. The BBC said the police are interested in speaking to Yulia Skripal once she’s well enough to answer their questions. Well yeah, I bet they are. But are they more interested in hearing what she has to say or making sure whatever she says fits the narrative the government assembled long before she woke up? You can be sure that whatever she says, the public will be told nothing that will make the government or police look bad.

I don’t believe governments and police departments engage in complex conspiracies from scratch, starting with a blank piece of paper. But I do believe they would burn whole neighbourhoods to the ground to cover up their own incompetence, or maintain a narrative once they’ve set the ball rolling in a particular direction. We are now in the middle of a full-blown diplomatic crisis with Russia into which we’ve roped several other countries, and it is still escalating. Now we find one of the two key persons is able to talk for the first time, perhaps shedding vital new light on what happened. Let’s face it, nobody has the slightest idea what she might say. Could we not have waited a little bit?

I know there are people out there who think any delay in issuing accusations, threats, and ultimatums would have “played into Russia’s hands”, but they seem awfully blasé about this whole thing. Contrast this with when MH-17 got shot down and Putin was visibly shaken, until he realised that what passes for EU leadership was not about to jeopardise business opportunities in Russia just for the sake of a couple of hundred dead passengers, and Obama might have to make a decision. Then they launched an absolute whirlwhind of disinformation, knowing full well they were culpable. This time they seem content with straight-faced denials and heavy sarcasm. They’re acting like they know full well they had nothing to do with it and at some point Britain and its allies are going to have egg all over their faces.

Of course I might be wrong, but I believe I’m justified in thinking the British government would stop at absolutely nothing to ensure this doesn’t happen, the truth be damned. I hope Yulia Skripal has a decent lawyer present when she talks to the police, one that is representing her interests and not the government’s. Who is representing the public’s interest in all this is anyone’s guess.

Share

The Bravery of Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame

While I was away in Morocco, a young Moroccan Islamist went on a murdering spree in the south of France, ending up in a supermarket where he took a woman hostage. A police officer on the scene, one Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame, traded places with her in a move of monumental bravery that cost him his life:

French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to the officer, saying that Col Arnaud “fell as a hero” after showing “exceptional courage and selflessness”, adding that he deserved “the respect and admiration of the whole nation”.

The whole world, even. Note that Beltrame was a Lt-Col, and would have been one of the senior officers on the scene. When the time came to show leadership, he stepped up.

Mr Collomb told reporters on Friday that police officers had managed to get some people out of the supermarket but the gunman had held one woman back as a human shield.

It was at this point, he said, that Col Beltrame had volunteered to swap himself for her.

As he did so, he left his mobile phone on a table with an open line so that police outside could monitor the situation.

When police heard gunshots, a tactical team stormed the supermarket. The gunman was killed and Col Beltrame was mortally wounded.

One may contrast the brave and selfless actions of Col Beltrame with those of the Deputy Sheriff who refused to confront the lunatic during the Parkland school shootings, even as children were being murdered, and with his superiors afterwards. We may also contrast the disregard for his own safety Col Beltrame displayed with that of the US police who dress for full combat and shoot unarmed people through “fear of their lives”. Cheese-eating surrender-monkeys, indeed.

That the French are cowards is a common slur on that nation*, one that is nonsense. French policemen have shown considerable bravery over the course of several attacks on civilians by Islamic lunatics, running towards the sound of shots even knowing they’re likely to be outgunned when they get there. Hopefully Col Beltrame’s sacrifice will put that stupid notion to bed forever. For my part, I’m rather glad I have French policemen around me, offering whatever protection they can.

*This mostly stems from their surrender to the Germans in 1940, and their reluctance to fight another war. Having been to Verdun, and knowing how much France suffered during WWI, their desire to avoid another war was understandable, particularly once their position on the battlefield had deteriorated so rapidly. Great Britain lost three-quarters of a million men during WWI, the French 1.1m. However, with much of the fighting taking place in France the civilian casualties were much higher and, coupled with disease, accounted for 4% of its population killed. Added to that were 4.2m wounded, compared with 1.6m British soldiers.

Share