MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The wide-ranging story began when Wiltshire Police announced that a man and a woman were found unconscious on a bench at a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4, 2018, after having been exposed to an unknown substance, later identified by UK experts as the A234 nerve agent. The first media reports suggesting that the victims were former GRU officer Skripal and his daughter Yulia emerged just several hours later, with the first claims about a "Russian trace" being not far behind.
Within a week after the incident, UK Prime Minister Theresa May claimed that Moscow was "highly likely" culpable for the poisoning. Soon the whole case morphed into a London-led international anti-Moscow campaign, which resulted in Russian diplomats being expelled from the United Kingdom, the United States and a number of EU countries and soon produced a series of spy mania scandals.
A UK journalist has published a video from the plance where the incident occured last year.
Moscow has categorically dismissed accusations, pointing to their trumped-up nature and London’s rejection of any requests to cooperate in investigation and grant access to the poisoned Russian citizens. The Russian authorities have also repeatedly stated that the hype surrounding the incident, which they believe was orchestrated to incite anti-Moscow sentiment on the global stage, is actively used by London to divert public opinion from the looming Brexit and other related domestic issues.
GRU Officers Would Not Walk in Front of CCTV Cameras
In an interview with the RT broadcaster, Petrov and Boshirov, later confirmed that they did visit Salisbury in those days but emphasized that they knew nothing about the Skripals and actually worked in the fitness industry. According to the duo, they came to Salisbury on the advice of their friends just for sightseeing.
According to Nicholas Anderson, who worked for the UK Secret Intelligence Service for about two decades and wrote a number of stories about covert activities based on his life experience and participation in several operations in conflict zones, the reason behind London’s reticence about the results of the investigation is absence of any proof to show to the public a year after the attack.
"Probably because while there is evidence there is no actual proof. Experienced intel officers from any service worth its salt would not walk together while operational overseas, for one. Every foreign intelligence service knows Britain has the most CCTV in the world so if those fellows were from Russia's GRU then they messed up big time", Anderson told Sputnik.
Porton Down's Proximity as Odd Coincidence
Another odd fact that "goes against most people's thinking", retired MI6 agent Anderson recalled, is that the high-profile poisoning incident with the alleged use of a military-grade nerve agent took place just seven miles from the Porton Down lab, one of the UK government's main chemical research facilities.
Moreover, the Porton Down lab was involved in the investigation of both the Salisbury incident and the exposure to allegedly the same nerve agent in another neighbouring city of Amesbury in July, which left one UK woman dead.
The lab itself, however, later said that it could not prove that the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack had been made in Russia or determine its country of origin.
Moscow, on its part, has repeatedly stressed that Russia's chemical arsenal was destroyed long ago, which was confirmed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), while the Novichok-group of nerve agents was never produced in post-Soviet Russia. Meanwhile, Moscow has noted that work on such chemical compounds was carried out in a number of other states — the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden and the United Kingdom itself.
'Collusion' Between UK Government, Media?
Anderson slammed the fact that London had "stupidly endorsed an amateur organization called Bellingcat" — which even presented a relevant report in the UK parliament at the invitation of a member of the latter's international committee — as if it "somehow knows more about what happened and who was behind it than the SIS [UK Secret Intelligence Service], the CIA [US Central Intelligence Agency] and NATO put-together."
"By using Bellingcat's findings our politicians embarrassingly threw egg on their own faces, in the eyes of the world. As a Dutch organization once said about them, 'From the perspective of forensics, the Bellingcat approach is not very robust. The core of what they are doing is based on so-called Error Level Analysis. ELA does not provide clear results. The conclusion is always based on the perspective of humans, on their interpretation, and it starts with the wholehearted believe 'it must be Russia'. I think this quote hits the nail on the head", he said.
Dr. Colin Alexander, a senior lecturer in political communications at Nottingham Trent University, in turn, noted that the Western media "has done little" in terms of investigative journalism to try to find out the truth behind the Salisbury incident, which he believes is explained by close ties between the UK government and mainstream media.
"There has not been much said to the media following the Salisbury attack investigation. Moreover, the mainstream news media at least, has done little in the way of investigative work into this issue … However, the lack of attention also reveals much about levels of hegemonic collusion or subservience between the British state and British mainstream media outlets. For the most part, British media have little interest in upsetting the state as they rely on access to key individuals for most of their news sources," Dr Alexander told Sputnik.
According to the expert, the media, therefore, would hardly ever take the risk of publishing any leaks that could somehow question the government’s account of events without the relevant sanction from the authorities.
"Therefore, regardless of what the investigation actually concludes, if the British state desires quiet about its contents then the media are unlikely to do too much damage to that. This is particularly the case when it comes to so-called ‘national security’ issues", he stated.
Distraction From Domestic Issues
When asked to suggest whether London could have seized the Salisbury incident as an opportunity to blame it on Russia in order to distract the public from the Brexit woes or other internal issues, Anderson did not rule it out.
"Most governments lie. It is, of course, likely the British government did this to distract the public away from Brexit. But it will never be proved though", he said.
Dr Alexander, in contrast, doubted that London could have entirely fabricated the story around Russia’s involvement.
"Not very likely. There are a number of conspiracy theories surrounding this case and this is one of them. Thus, while governments often put their garbage out the back door when the media are distracted by other issues it is unclear whether this is such an occasion. All countries see incidents of tax reform, social welfare cuts or even scandals being quietly acknowledged while other news is going on. This is one of the fundamental tactics of political propaganda … Nevertheless, Russia putting forward the two suspects for interview, and their highly unbelievable rationale for being in Salisbury at the time, has certainly not helped to distance Russia from this story", he noted.
Making a link between the Salisbury events and the staged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Duma in April, the United Kingdom also successfully pushed through the initiative to expand the OPCW mandate to assigning responsibility for chemical weapons attacks — something that is denounced by Moscow as a politicized move and an encroachment on the UN Security Council authority.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.