The Russian embassy has a bone to pick with the British press over their coverage of the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, but it’s not the complaint one might expect. The press in the UK have described Skripal as a “Russian spy,” and the embassy takes exception to that label. They insisted on correcting the story to note that Skripal was a British spy, not Russian, thank you very much:
He was actually a British spy, working for MI6 pic.twitter.com/PPAcE8a9vz
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) March 8, 2018
Skripal was actually both. He held the rank of colonel in the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, at the time of his retirement in 1999. After he left, Russia discovered that he worked as a mole for MI-6, convicting him in 2001 and keeping him in prison until a spy swap in 2010 that brought back the infamous Anna Chapman ring to Moscow. That got exposed by another mole in Russia, who escaped just before the US arrested all ten members of that ring. At the time of the swap, Vladimir Putin offered a warning to Colonel Scherbakov, the man who exposed the Chapman ring, but also appears to apply to Skripal too:
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB spy, greeted them as heroes. He said traitors came to a bad end, and the informer would be left to the mercy of his own kind.
“The special services live by their own laws and everyone knows what these laws are,” he said shortly after the swap.
Meanwhile, the social-media minister at the embassy is also cautioning against a rush to judgment, highlighting what it considers hypocrisy from the British press:
Presumption of innocence 2.0: no idea what happened, no idea why it happened, but Russians are to blame. pic.twitter.com/JmK9tNgd3i
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) March 7, 2018
Good luck with that argument. British authorities are not yet releasing the specific compound found on Skripal and his daughter, but they have noted that it’s a rare nerve agent that governments tightly control. The Independent’s sources say that British intelligence is going after a “network of state-sponsored actors” in response to this attack:
Britain’s security services are hunting a network of highly-trained assassins suspected of launching a nerve agent attack on a Russian spy and his daughter, sources say.
The brutal and sophisticated method used to target Sergei Skripal and his daughter – which also left a police officer seriously ill – point towards “either present or past state-sponsored actors”, investigators have told The Independent. …
A source said that it would not, technically, have been difficult to make but its lethality meant would almost certainly have needed a specialist laboratory to manufacture.
The sophistication is seen as another indication that the would-be assassins were likely to have had access to state resources, and extensively planned the attack.
It was lethal enough to have nearly killed a police officer who first responded to the attack. He’s still in serious but stable condition:
The police officer left seriously ill after he was caught up in the Salisbury nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter was named as Sergeant Nick Bailey on Thursday.
As home secretary Amber Rudd condemned the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal as a “brazen and reckless” attempted murder, forensic officers were cordoning off the graves of the former Russian spy’s wife and son in a Salisbury cemetery.
Rudd said that the father and daughter, 66 and 33, remained “unconscious and in a critical but stable condition.” Speaking in the House of Commons, she added that Bailey was in a serious but stable condition but was “conscious, talking and engaging”.
Bailey’s not alone, by the way:
BREAKING: UK police update total number of people treated as a result of former Russian spy's poisoning to roughly 21.
— The Associated Press (@AP) March 8, 2018
The manner of attack, and its careless impunity, was clearly intended to send a message pour encourager les âutres. That was also the case with Alexander Litvinenko’s slo-mo assassination with polonium-210 after his public criticism of Putin. North Korea’s assassination of Kim Jong-nam with VX was more of a threat elimination operation than a “statement” in that sense. The Russian embassy can complain all they want about a lack of “presumption of innocence” (which applies in courtrooms, by the way), but they can hardly blame people for connecting dots that get shoved into their faces, especially when Putin bragged about exactly these kinds of consequences immediately after the swap that got Skripal out of Russian custody.