So one of my commenters keeps urging me to write something about the Skripal case, even hinting at a conspiracy to keep “bad news” from Unz.com denizens. I was going to briefly mention in my weekly Open Thread, but not anything more, because I don’t see this news are either important or unexpected. But given the urgency of these exhortations, and my respect for said commenter, I’ll do this right now.
We have two suspects who have been captured on CCTV, Alexander Petrov (a Russian “John Smith”) and Ruslan Boshirov (“Bashirov” is a typical Tatar surname, with 48 hits in a database of Russian military deaths in WW1; but there are no results for “Boshirov”, a surname which nobody seems to have heard of before and which gets underlined in red when I type it into my WordPress post creation box).
Furthermore, as Craig Murray pointed out, the CCTV snapshot of the two men showed the exact same time mark to the second. As he himself acknowledges, there could be innocent explanations for this. Perhaps the two men passed through different gates in exact synchronicity – unlikely, but not impossible. Or as for-the-record suggested on my blog, perhaps the camera clock was stalled.
While a poorly executed stitch-up might not be the likeliest possibility, you can’t rule it out entirely. When I was just out of high school (“secondary school”), I recall browsing through a career book, in which I read that the starting salary in MI6 was around 18,000 GBP, compared to the 50,000 GBP or more you’d be making in London investment banking right off the bat. The spooks aren’t going to get the best people with these paltry sums. A couple of generations ago, when patriotism was less superficial, and income differentials were much smaller, you’d have had more competent spooks (though they were still pretty incompetent). Though in all fairness, their human capital isn’t any better in Russia.
Even if it wasn’t, as Craig Murray goes on to point out, it only deepens the mystery:
Meanwhile the new evidence throws the previously reported timelines into confusion – and demolishes the theories put out by “experts” as to why the Novichok dose was not fatal. …
The longest possible gap between the novichok being placed on the doorknob and the Skripals touching it would have been one hour and 15 minutes. Do you recall all those “experts” leaping in to tell us that the “ten times deadlier than VX” nerve agent was not fatal because it had degraded overnight on the doorknob? Well that cannot be true. The time between application and contact was between a minute and (at most) just over an hour on this new timeline.
In general it is worth observing that the Skripals, and poor Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, all managed to achieve almost complete CCTV invisibility in their widespread movements around Salisbury at the key times, while in contrast “Petrov and Boshirov” managed to be frequently caught in high quality all the time during their brief visit. …
It is also telling the police have pressed no charges against them in the case of Dawn Sturgess, which would be manslaughter at least if the government version is true.
If “Boshirov and Petrov” are secret agents, their incompetence is astounding. They used public transport rather than a vehicle and left the clearest possible CCTV footprint. They failed in their assassination attempt. They left traces of novichok everywhere and could well have poisoned themselves, and left the “murder weapon” lying around to be found. Their timings in Salisbury were extremely tight – and British Sunday rail service dependent.
Murray also tosses out the possibility they might have been Ukrainians.
While some extreme Ukrainophobes claim that Ukrainians are too incompetent to carry out covert operations, such as the assassination of Zakharchenko, I would argue that they can do that – just not very competently, and with a tendency to collateral damage. The bombing of the Separ restaurant also reportedly killed five other people, and certainly severely injured a pure civilian, the leader of a Donbass youth group, Natalia Volkova.
But sure, I certainly don’t exclude that it could have been Russia too. The best Russians don’t go into espionage either. And it could have been botched on purpose, anyway. Commenter Dmitry has made good arguments that Russia’s ideal position wrt the West is a cold peace, and commenter Sean has made good arguments that this personally benefits Putin as well. My own sources tell me that Putin’s retirement is now one of the main topics in Kremlin circles, and any successor will find it far harder to make a heel turn towards the West – which would jeopardize the accumulated wealth of Putin’s elites and even Putin’s own safety – if relations between the two are purposefully poisoned.
Anyhow, you notice something? We are still in pure speculation mode. That the Brits would produce something eventually was to be expected, so I agree with The Big Red Scary that there is absolutely no reason to update our priors:
As far as I can tell, the British government has shown some pictures of some guys in what appears to be an airport, then some pictures of what appear to be the same guys on a street somewhere. They claim that these same guys entered the UK under some particular Russian names, and that they found residue of “Novichok” in their hotel room. Since the British government is not giving any means to falsify this story, and since they are known to lie about all kinds of other things, why should I pay attention?
Of slightly greater interest has been the effect on the world at large, but even there, this revelation seems to be a damp squib so far.
1. The USD – ruble rate has barely budged, and this probably was tied to a greater extent to general EM trends. The US sanctions process against Russia as it relates to the Skripals is potentially extreme, but it is already in process and its costs/risks must already be priced into the financial markets.
2. The UK by itself can’t do much against Russia.
It can kick out and harass Russian oligarchs, and many Westerners would love it do so. But for that matter, most Russians – including Putin – would love the UK to help solve their comprador elite problem for them.
But the UK isn’t going to do that. Not because Theresa May is controlled by ROG, or whatever the latest conspiracy theory is, but the rather more banal reality that wealthy Russians play a large role in propping up elite housing prices in London. A sector in which many British MPs are invested into.
3. The Euros will make ritualistic noises in support of the UK, but with things the way they are with Brexit, it is highly unlikely any of them will actually stick their necks out for them.