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Friday, July 6, 2018

If the Novichok was Planted by Russia, Where’s the Evidence?

This is a good sign in our continual search for what's true - The Guardian is questioning the government's near-hysterical ranting against Russia and Putin. It's about time!

Simon Jenkins, The Guardian

No one has a clue about the Wiltshire poisonings – though the most obvious motive is someone out to embarrass Vladimir Putin

Emergency services on the scene of the latest novichok scare in Amesbury. In this still from a video, a man found unconscious is taken out on a stretcher. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

I seem to be the only person alive with no clue as to who has poisoned four people in Wiltshire

I am told that only Russians have access to the poison, known as novichok – though the British research station of Porton Down, located ominously nearby, clearly knows a lot about it. Otherwise, I repeat, I have no clue. 

It is very curious to me that both Novichok events occurred within a few kilometers of Porton Down, UK's very large chemical research community. Check out this map. Porton Down is even closer to Amesbury than it is to Salisbury. If I were investigating these poisonings, I would start right there.

I suppose I can see why the Kremlin might want to kill an ex-spy such as Sergei Skripal and his daughter, so as to deter others from defecting. But why wait so long after he has fled, and why during the build-up to so highly politicised an event as a World Cup in Russia?

Four months on from the crime, the Skripals have been incommunicado in a “secure location”. Barely a word has been heard from them. Theresa May has persistently blamed Russia. She has called the incident “brazen and despicable”, and MI5 condemned “flagrant breaches of international rules”. But I cannot see the diplomatic or other purchase in prejudging the case, when no one can offer a clue.

As to why the same person or persons should want to kill a couple, unconnected to the Skripals, on an Amesbury housing development, the questions are even more baffling. It seems a funny sort of carelessness. Did the couple pick up the infecting agent nearer the original site, eight miles away? Might the new poisoning be an attempt to divert attention from the earlier one? Could it be a devious plot, to make it seem that novichok is available on every street corner, from your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer? Or perhaps one of the victims, Charlie Rowley, has mates in Porton Down? Perhaps someone is showing off, or panicking, or behaving like a complete idiot. Who knows?

 The most obvious motive would surely be from someone out to
embarrass Vladimir Putin - one of his enemies

Now, I wonder who that might include? Gosh, hmmmm, UK? NATO? Deep State? USA? Ukraine? Oligarchs? Political Opposition in Russia? George Soros? No! It was clearly Putin determined to embarrass himself and ensure more sanctions on his country. That's the only thing that makes any sense, at least, to Theresa.

Since I have not a smidgen of an answer to any of these questions, I feel no need to capitulate to the politics of terror and fear. I can open my front door without cleaning my hand. I can visit Wiltshire in peace and safety and marvel at the spire of Salisbury Cathedral. I can revel in the remains of the bronze age Amesbury archer – whose death from bone disease has finally been resolved by the scientists. Where knowledge is nonexistent, ignorance is bliss.

That clearly does not apply to government ministers, for whom ignorance is not a sufficient condition for silence. The home secretary, Sajid Javid, said it was time “the Russian state comes forward and explains exactly what has gone on”. His security minister, Ben Wallace, had earlier reached the same conclusion, given that the Russians “had developed novichok, they had explored assassination programmes in the past, they had motive, form and stated policy”.

Like Javid, he asserted “to a very high assurance” that Russia was to blame, and spoke of “the anger I feel at the Russian state. They chose to use a very, very toxic, highly dangerous weapon,” and should “come and tell us what happened”. Since Moscow vigorously denies any involvement, it is hard to see how the Russians would now “explain”.

Specialist officers in protective suits investigate the first novichok incident – the poisoning of the Skripals, in Salisbury. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Surely, three months after the poison attack on the Skripals, ministers could have produced some evidence for all these accusations? I am at a loss to see what motive the Kremlin might have to commit murders on foreign soil during the buildup, let alone the enactment, of a sporting event that is of mammoth chauvinist significance to Russia.

Clearly it is possible that freelancers, wildcats or private contract killers could have operated at many removes from the Kremlin. But who knows? The most obvious motive for these attacks would surely be from someone out to embarrass the Russian president, Vladimir Putin – someone from his enemies, rather than from his friends or employees. But once again we have no clue.

That the Skripal attack was not long before Russian elections might lend credence to this theory.

As it is, all we can see are the devious tools of the new international politics. We see the rush to judgment at the bidding of the news agenda. We see murders and terrorist incidents hijacked for political gain or military advantage. Ministers plunge into Cobra bunkers. Social media and false news are weaponised. So too are sporting events.

Sport is the most flagrant. The plea that “politics should be kept out of sport” is as hopeless as demanding the exclusion of corruption and fraud. The very phrase, “international” sport, drips with politics. Why else do politicians shower sports festivals with taxpayers’ cash? As the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz would say, such events are the continuation of war by other means. Witness the obscene glee with which the British tabloids greeted Germany’s ejection from the World Cup last week.

Any politicians or heads of state who grace an international sporting fixture – not least one as self-congratulatory as an event hosted by Russia – cannot pretend their presence is apolitical. Hence the pressure on Theresa May to boycott the World Cup because of the Wiltshire poisoning – assuming that she ever intended to go, that is.

To all this there is an easy way out. As we flounder through the novichok morass without a jot of evidence, these crimes should be treated as they remain, local cases of attempted murder. They should be detached from global power plays, political grandstanding and penalty shootouts. They belong to the Wiltshire police and their advisers.

If nothing eventually emerges to implicate Moscow in the poisonings, more fool the politicians. If they were indeed a Russian plot, then the time to get justifiably angry is when this has been proved. Until then, I recommend the tennis.

• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist