On 3 March 2018 a former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury England, obviously suffering from the ill effects of an undetermined substance. They were transported to hospital and placed in intensive care. The initial hospital reports made no mention of their being the victims of any nerve agent attack. It seems that they were initially thought by the medical staff to be suffering from the effects of Fentanyl, an illegal but widely used drug in England. This diagnosis was based upon the symptoms exhibited by Sergei and Yulia.
Six months later that is still the sum total of the information that can be unequivocally accepted. As to what substance they ingested, where, how and by whom it was administered is no better known now then it was that March afternoon in a small provincial town. Salisbury was hitherto better known for its magnificent cathedral, where ironically is found one of the best surviving copies of Magna Carta, and its proximity both to the ancient prehistoric monument of Stonehenge and more ominously Britain’s chemical warfare establishment of Porton Down.
The lack of specific knowledge as to what, how, by whom and precisely where the Skripals became infected did not stop British prime minister Theresa May launching an extraordinary and factually inaccurate statement to the British House of Commons in which she held the Russian government responsible for what had allegedly happened to the Skripals.
Her statement was not only replete with factual inaccuracies; it shredded the last vestiges of what was once called British justice.
Those principles are drilled into every law student exposed to the common law system. They include the presumption of innocence; not charging anyone with a crime until there is at least sufficient evidence to create a prima facie case; the right to subject the allegations to rigorous testing as to veracity, admissibility and scientific credibility; and importantly in this case disclosing the evidence to the accused who then has the right to have the prosecution case argued before an impartial tribunal.
Of further fundamental importance is that the onus of proving the case lies upon the accuser. Mrs May’s demands that Russia “explain” what happened makes a travesty of this paramount principle. It reverses the onus of proof, an astonishing departure from principle that nonetheless has been completely disregarded by the western media.
None of these principles can be observed in the Skripal case. Mrs May compounded her disregarding of basic principles by making a series of statements that were demonstrably untrue. One example is that the alleged substance used, the suitably Russian sounding ‘Novichok’ could only have originated in Russia.
As innumerable articles on this topic have subsequently pointed out, the United States alone has multiple patents for the Novichok class of nerve agents. Several countries are known to hold samples, including the United Kingdom at their own Porton Down facility.
The inherent implausibility of the British argument, its manifold inconsistencies, illogicalities and gaping holes were not a deterrent to the manufactured hysteria that followed the Skripals admission to hospital.
All of the problems with the British governments explanations to date have been comprehensively analysed elsewhere, for example in the excellent websites www.blogmire.com; www.craigmurray.org.uk; www.moonofalabama.com and www.off-guardian.com and no attempt will be made to replicate their analysis.
’Novichok’, the wider public were solemnly informed, was 8 to 10 times more powerful than VX, a substance developed by the British. The slightest exposure, the public was also told, was almost invariably fatal. When the Skripals recovered, quite quickly and completely, no attempt was made to explain this extraordinary outcome.
The means by which this debilitating substance was administered we were later told, was that the front door handle of Mr Skripal’s house had been smeared. That this ‘explanation’ in turn created a whole host of further implausibilities was simply ignored by the United Kingdom government and its unquestioning mainstream media.
Instead of being subject to forensic questioning, the United Kingdom government has simply kept adding yet more fantastic variations to the original tale, the latest being the blaming of two Russians alleged to be GRU agents. And the evidence for this latest burst of half-baked propagandizing? CCTV footage of the two men wandering around Central Salisbury (never closer than 500 metres to the Skripal house), and alleged traces of ‘Novichok’ in the bedroom of the London hotel that they stayed in. This latter claim would be literally laughed out of court.
No mainstream journalist has asked what is immediately obvious as a crucial question. The Skripals left their home that morning and there is no evidence that they ever returned. Yet the two Russians accused of being the attempted assassins did not arrive in Salisbury until shortly before 12 noon.
How then did they smear the doorknob (without being seen or using protective clothing) and manage to infect the Skripals when they were not at home and therefore could not have touched the doorknob between 12.00 noon and when they fell ill (simultaneously) nearly four hours later?
The extraordinary and deceptive lengths the British government have gone to in their relentless campaign against Russia strongly suggests that this case has little or nothing to do with the Skripals at all. They are simply collateral damage to the wider geopolitical objectives of the United Kingdom and its allies.
The alacrity with which a number of western governments accepted all of the United Kingdom government’s absurdities and expelled diplomats, imposed sanctions and generally joined in the anti-Russian chorus is also highly suggestive of broader and deeper motives. Even the completely dysfunctional Australian and United States governments are not bereft of qualified and rational advice, which they have obviously chosen to ignore.
What then is really behind the Skripal hysteria? There is no single simple answer to that question, but there are a number of factors that in my opinion have a bearing on the fervent Russia phobia this is being maintained. Correlation is obviously not the same as causation, but there are certain patterns to be observed that assuredly go beyond mere coincidence. A number are worthy of brief special mention.
It has long been a debate within American power circles as to the tactics to be adopted in confronting Russia and China. This dates back at least to the Brzezinski and Kissinger arguments of the 1970s. It was always only an argument about tactics: whether Russia should be befriended to constrain China, or vise versa. The end goal was always the same, to prevent either or both from challenging US hegemony.
For a while this tactic appeared to be working. China had not yet fully emerged as a potential threat to the United States. Russia appeared to have been a ‘victory’ from their perspective with the collapse of the Soviet Union followed by the disastrous years of the Yeltsin presidency.
The advent of the Putin era reversed all of that. He has been a hate figure in the western media and political classes ever since. Putin not only rescued Russia from the ravages of western capitalism on its resources, he restored Russian national pride and most significantly established a formidable military capability that is unmatched in the west.
The evidence suggests that Putin sought cooperation with the West, but a series of systematic betrayals, including but not limited to the steady expansion Eastward of NATO, contrary to Bush’s undertakings to Gorbachev, and the unilateral withdrawal from the anti ballistic missile treaty were sufficient to persuade Putin that not only was the west “non-agreement capable,” but that it posed an existential threat to Russia’s very existence.
The successful, and entirely legal (unlike the United States and its “coalition”) intervention in the Syria war was a massive blow to American ambitions to not only replace the Assad Government with a pliable puppet, but also their ambition to control middle eastern oil and gas. The invasion of Iraq, itself manifestly illegal and on completely false pretexts, also had the same motives of controlling oil and gas.
Control of the Qatari gas reserves and the pipeline to Europe had the added bonus from the American point of view of undermining Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas. The latest sanctions and threats by the United States in respect of the Nord Stream II project simply reinforces the point.
Russia’s successful intervention in Syria (with Iran and Hezbollah) served to increase the anti Russian hysteria. There have been at least three false flag chemical attacks blamed on the Assad Government and by extension on their Russian allies, and the recent reversal of Trump’s previous policy of withdrawing from Syria in the context of another widely telegraphed false flag chemical attack also reinforces the point.
The fact that the alleged Skripal chemical weapons attack occurred two days after Mr Putin’s speech to the Russian Parliament in which he announced a range of weaponry vastly superior to anything in the western arsenal was not in my opinion coincidental. It is here that a series of events have emerged as having some interesting connections.
Skripal is often described in the western media as a retired ex spy living quietly in an English provincial city. He in fact appears to be very much more. There are reports of him continuing an unspecified intelligence role for at least two Western European (NATO) countries.
Even more interestingly, Skripal’s “handler” when he was working as a double agent with Russia’s GRU and betraying Russian secrets was Pablo Miller. Miller also lives in Salisbury, close to Skripal’s house. It was Miller that was the subject of the ‘D’ Notice issued by the United Kingdom government that has prevented any discussion of Miller’s existence, let alone his current role(s), in the UK media.
Miller is also a business associate of Christopher Steele, another UK spy, who is attributed with the authorship of the so-called Steele dossier that was a grab bag of salacious accusations about then US presidential candidate Donald Trump.
The dossier, commissioned by forces supportive of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, has been used ever since as part of the ongoing undermining of the Trump presidency through the farcical ‘Russiagate’ investigation.
It is admittedly speculation, but Skripal’s close association with Miller and Steele, and his knowledge of at least some Russian contacts would put him in possession of potentially damaging information. Damaging that is, to the forces arrayed against Trump and determined to subvert his presidency.
The other factor that needs to be considered is the role of China, and more particularly the growing strategic relationship between China and Russia. The more sanctions and other forms of hybrid warfare that are utilized against Russia, the stronger becomes the strategic partnership between the two nations. The leadership of both countries is acutely aware that the defeat of one will assuredly lead to an attack and potential defeat of the other.
Despite the continuous attempts by the western media to portray the rise of China as a “threat” to the west, the real threat arises from the response by the United States and its allies to China’s rise.
That is clearly seen in a number of areas, including constant provocations in the South China Sea; against China’s ever extending economic and political reach into areas such as the South Pacific previously regarded as the exclusive backyard of Australia and United States; the use of the US’s various jihadist allies to foment unrest in Central and South Asia; and an unrelenting negative media campaign against the China inspired Belt and Road Initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative is a part of a series of transformative projects throughout Eurasia, including the increasingly influential Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and of the economic and geopolitical linkages with the Russian led EAEU. The latter body has recently signed a free trade agreement with Iran, another prime American target. Russia, China and Iran are also working to circumvent that latest round of unilateral US sanctions. They are leading the charge to replace the US dollar as the medium of international trade and with it the US’s ability to defy economic logic.
The recent China-Africa conference, and the Eurasian Economic Forum in Vladivostok reinforce the transformative changes being wrought. The close cooperation of Russia and China in these and other projects are profoundly changing the geopolitical landscape.
It is in this context that the extraordinarily overblown and false accusations against Russia over the Skripal incident need to be viewed. That the British, with the willing compliance of their allies, are willing to defy long standing legal processes; to conceal vital information; to ignore international obligations such as Consular treaties; to censor their own media; to ask the public to accept a series of improbabilities, contradictions and absolute fabrications; indicates that far more is at stake than the fate of a hitherto obscure and low level traitor.
The Skripals are collateral damage in a much wider geopolitical strategy that risks a conflagration far beyond the quiet streets of a provincial English town.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.