According to UK officials, a Russian made, Cold War era nerve agent was used in the attempted assassination of a former spy in Salisbury, England earlier this month. This revelation prompted Prime Minister Theresa May to expel 23 Russian diplomats from the nation, freeze Russian assets held within UK territories, and according to British media reports, she intends to pursue further measures against the Russian government for their hand in the incident.
“This is a more dangerous and sophisticated agent than sarin or VX and is harder to identify,” said Professor Gary Stephens, a pharmacology expert at the University of Reading. Novichok is comprised of chemicals that were not included in the banned chemical weapons treaties Russia signed prior to its creation, and was intended to be extremely difficult to detect or defend against.
In characteristic Russian style, of course, the Kremlin has fiercely refuted May’s accusations. While Russian officials have not disputed that the chemical weapon known as Novichok is indeed a Soviet creation that, as far as the international governments of the world are aware, has not been recreated in the laboratories of other nations, they have contested the determination that the substance used in the attack was Novichok at all – demanding that they be permitted to conduct their own independent analysis of the substance recovered at the scene. One can surmise, of course, that a Moscow sanctioned analysis would ultimately reveal a different culprit; one with no direct link to Russian weapons programs.
“The Kremlin all the time, like all criminals, denying — it doesn’t mean anything,” Vil Mirzayanov, 83, told an Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) journalist this week. One could argue that he knows Novichok better than anyone – he was one of the Soviet chemists that helped to develop it in the 1980s. “Novichok was invented and studied and experimented and many tonnes were produced only in Russia. Nobody knew in this world,” Dr. Mirzayanov said.
On Wednesday, the Kremlin responded to Theresa May’s accusations in a formal statement posted to the Russian Defense Ministry’s website, calling the UK’s response “unacceptable” and claiming that it is part of a broader “anti-Russia campaign.” That concept of a conspiracy against the Russian government isn’t a new development in their formal statements – as Moscow has also claimed that America’s “anti-Russia campaign” is responsible for allegations of everything from election meddling to awareness of Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria.
Ironically, a number of high profile Russian statements regarding the American presence in Syria have since been proven to be not only fictional, but sometimes, laughably so – such as the repeated use of video game footage presented as “evidence” of American support for the Islamic State.
According to Wednesday’s statement, the British government drummed up allegations of Russia’s involvement in killing a spy that Vladimir Putin himself once seemed to reference personally in a threatening statement about “traitors kicking the bucket.” The Kremlin goes on to claim the accusations were levied only because the UK wants to seek a confrontation with Russia. One could argue, of course, that the UK’s membership in NATO, currently working to bolster defenses throughout Europe’s eastern flank as a result of Russian aggression, hardly needs to invent a reason to heighten tensions between the two states, however.
You can read Moscow’s full response to UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement below:
The March 14 statement made by British Prime Minister Theresa May in Parliament on measures to “punish” Russia, under the false pretext of its alleged involvement in the poisoning of Sergey Skripal and his daughter, constitutes an unprecedented, flagrant provocation that undermines the foundations of normal dialogue between our countries.
We believe it is absolutely unacceptable and unworthy of the British Government to seek to further seriously aggravate relations in pursuit of its unseemly political ends, having announced a whole series of hostile measures, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the country.
Instead of completing its own investigation and using established international formats and instruments, including within the framework of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – in which we were prepared to cooperate – the British Government opted for confrontation with Russia. Obviously, by investigating this incident in a unilateral, non-transparent way, the British Government is again seeking to launch a groundless anti-Russian campaign.
Needless to say, our response measures will not be long in coming.”
Image courtesy of the Associated Press