International WMD watchdog confirms: Skripals poisoned by Russian nerve agent of "high purity"

Who poisoned the Skripals in Salisbury? A new analysis from the international oversight organization that enforces chemical weapons treaties doesn’t directly name names, but the report falls foursquare behind the analysis of the UK’s own investigators. The OPCW confirmed that the nerve agent was a Russian variant, which points the finger at Moscow:

The international chemical weapons watchdog has backed Britain’s findings as to the identity of the chemical used in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said an analysis of samples taken from Sergei Skripal, his daughter, Yulia, and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, confirmed the UK’s assessment. …

The executive summary released by the OPCW does not mention novichok by name, but states: “The results of the analysis by the OPCW designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirms the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury and severely injured three people.”

The OPCW publicly issued a very terse executive summary, sending the full report to its member states privately, at least for the moment. It describes their analytical process, which included drawing blood independently from the victims and doing their own on-site forensics. The team also had access to the environmental samples collected by British investigators, which they used to test the UK’s analytical processes and conclusions. The OPCW worked both lanes and came to the same conclusion in each — that Novichok was used to “severely injure[]” the Skripals and one police officer who attempted to help them.

They also note something else about the samples, emphasis mine:

The TAV team notes that the toxic chemical was of high purity. The latter is concluded from the almost complete absence of impurities.

High purity suggests that the poison was developed in a lab with considerable resources and stringent quality control. Even if Novichok was a compound that lends itself to do-it-yourself manufacturing (and it’s not), the high purity makes it pretty clear that this came from a state rather than rogue agents mixing it on their own.

But which state? That’s not exactly an Agatha Christie stumper, either. Only one state and/or its agents had a motive for assassinating Sergei Skripal and to do so in a manner where the method speaks so clearly. Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who became a British mole, had been swapped for the “Anna Chapman” spy ring in the US; Russia also added three other Russian turncoats, including the man who blew Chapman’s cover. At that time, Vladimir Putin himself warned that the Russian intelligence services would settle those scores at a time of their choosing:

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.

Certainly everyone does now. Among the enlightened is Yulia Skripal, who remained a Russian citizen and resident after her father’s release and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time for the Salisbury attack. Russia wants Yulia back, but she’s not interested. Yulia issued don’t call us we’ll call you statement yesterday:

Russia has repeatedly insisted on being granted access to Ms. Skripal and her father, Sergei V. Skripal, 66, after the British government said they were poisoned with the rare, military-grade agent novichok, developed in the Soviet Union, leaving them both in critical condition. Russia has also rejected and ridiculed British accusations that Moscow was responsible for the attack.

“I have been made aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy, who have kindly offered me their assistance in any way they can,” Ms. Skripal was quoted as saying, in a statement released by the Metropolitan Police on Wednesday evening. “At the moment, I do not wish to avail myself of their services, but if I change my mind, I know how to contact them.”

She added that she would have more to say later, but until then,”no-one speaks for me, or for my father.” That seems aimed at her cousin Viktoria, who gave Russian media an audio recording of a phone conversation they had after Yulia regained consciousness in the hospital. The UK refused a visa request from Viktoria, and yesterday Yulia publicly asked her to keep away from her:

In interviews with Russian media, Viktoria has also suggested that British authorities asked her to denounce Russia as a condition of receiving the visa and that London denied her request because it has “something to hide” about the poisonings.

A spokesman for Britain’s Home Office says Viktoria Skripal’s visa application “did not comply with the immigration rules,” an explanation the Russian embassy said was “disappointing” and “politically motivated,” according to Sky News.

“I thank my cousin Viktoria for her concern for us, but ask that she does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being,” the statement quoted her as saying.

The Russian embassy accused the Brits of manipulating the younger Skripal:

The statement attributed to Ms. Skripal, 33, was met with derision by the Russian authorities, who described it as “an interesting read,” pointedly noting that there was no way to verify it, and suggesting that the remarks raised more questions than answers.

“We would like to make sure that the statement really belongs to Yulia,” the Russian Embassy in Britain said in a statement on Wednesday. “So far, we doubt it much. The text has been composed in a special way so as to support official statements made by British authorities, and at the same time to exclude every possibility of Yulia’s contacts with the outer world — consuls, journalists and even relatives.” …

“The document only strengthens suspicions that we are dealing with a forcible isolation of the Russian citizen,” the Russian Embassy said in its statement. “If British authorities are interested in assuring the public that this is not the case, they must urgently provide tangible evidence that Yulia is all right and not deprived of her freedom.”

The OPCW analysis suggests what everyone already knows — that the Russians wanted to send a message to other potential turncoats that they will never be safe. Don’t blame Yulia for successfully decoding it.