The development comes after British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Moscow of sarcasm, contempt and defiance in its response to London's ultimatum, and alleges that Russia is behind the attack.
Sputnik discussed this with Professor Alastair Hay, a toxicologist at the University of Leeds and a leading expert in the toxic properties of chemical warfare agents. He is a member of the British government's advisory group on chemical warfare.
Alastair Hay: Why it hasn't shared more at this stage I don't know, I had some suspicions but I don't know for certain. I have no doubt about the evidence that was collected and the identity of the chemical. The laboratory at Porton Down, the defense science and technology laboratory is world-class, they are very reputable, so their identification of the nerve agent is almost certainly correct, but there will be other police evidence and other evidentiary material that would have been collected and I'm not privy to any of that, so I assume that all of this information that has been put together is the basis for the UK's position.
Sputnik: The substance called Novichok is said to be extremely lethal can you comment on the fact that it wasn't lethal in the case of Skripal and his daughter?
Alastair Hay: There has been difficulty defining the exact chemical structures of this so-called Novichok family of chemicals, they are phosphate chemicals, they all operate in a similar way to block messages between nerves and muscles. The Skripals almost certainly had a lethal dose, and they are surviving simply because of the medical treatment they've received, have they not had that, they would almost certainly have died.
Sputnik: What are the possibilities that it could have been manufactured elsewhere, not in Russia? Can this nerve agent, you said it's a phosphate group, can it be created from fertilizers or other chemicals?
Alastair Hay: I have no doubt that a competent chemist looking at the published chemical structures of these compounds could work out a way of making it, and so it would not preclude any other laboratory with the right facilities and the individual having the right skills making this agent. There has been dispute about the particular chemical structures and this is why these agents were never declared as such by the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) in what they call their schedules, their schedules described recognizing those nerve agents and their structures, and the Novichok chemicals were not included there although they were discussed in 2013 in the organization.
Sputnik: This is possibly made out of two separate components which by themselves are toxic but not as toxic as this Novichok and that they can be transported separately and mixed, is that also a possibility can you tell us about?
Alastair Hay: Here you're talking about what's called a binary program, and the binary program is well known, it has been used in Syria, the United States considered it when in the 1980's it wanted to modernize some of its stockpiles and the arguments were simply that because you got two separate components that would only be mixed when the weapon was going to be made ready, that these could be stored separately and they were much-much safer and it was a way of reassuring the citizens in Germany, where the American weapons were destined to go but they were never made, to reassure them that there will be no general risk to the public.
But I've been looking at what has been published, the structures for the Novichoks and I find it difficult to work out as a chemist how they might have been made without some of the precursors having to be declared, and Russia announced a few months ago that it had complied with the Chemical Weapons Convention, that it had destroyed its declared stockpile, 40,000 tons of chemical weapons material and that destruction was done under international supervision by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, so there are some inconsistences in this whole story which I'm very unclear about, because Russia on the face of it has been fully compliant with the Chemical Weapons Convention, but the British government is alleging that it had a Novichok program that it hadn't declared.
Sputnik: Is there a standard international protocol for investigating chemical weapons attacks?
Alastair Hay: Yes and no. The OPCW has trained international inspectors who can go to different places, they were involved in the one investigation of the attack in Syria in Ghouta, collected evidence which is analyzed in a number of laboratories, there are about 20 that are intentionally capable of doing this analysis, so many of them could be quite neutral, well they are neutral, the OPCW can use any of these laboratories to do an investigation. There are mechanisms under which one state can request further investigations, the OPSW itself can ask a member state to explain various activities.
This is the first time that I'm aware, that one member state has accused another of a possible attack on it by that state. I think the investigation here was done entirely, as I understand by the UK, they would've followed established protocols for collecting the material because this is something that will have to go eventually, if individuals can be identified who was involved in the use of the release of this material, it could eventually go to court in the UK, so the evidence would have to be collected for that. The UK will have to provide the evidence it has and as I understand it will be providing samples as well.
Sputnik: Should Russia have been given accesses to samples?
Alastair Hay: At some point, Russia will, obviously, see the results of the investigation that the OPCW did. That is a question really, that is a bilateral issue, it's a question of evidence and one might hope that there could be some kind of exchange like that, but obviously, at this stage, it's a very difficult, very heated political exchange that's going on.
The views and opinions expressed by Alastair Hay are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.