Tuesday, 13 March 2018

A serious attack within the United Kingdom

(Updates at the end).

For some years, there has been considerable concern about the activities of foreign powers within the UK.  The concerns extend to a number of deaths of individuals with connection to Russia - see BBC News 17th March 2018.  


In 1978, the writer and broadcaster Georgi Markov was killed in London by means of an umbrella which injected ricin into his leg.  It is generally thought that the Bulgarian State was responsible for this murder but it remains unsolved - BBC News - 1978: Umbrella attack victim dies.  From the late 1980s, Bulgaria underwent a transition from Communism to Parliamentary democracy and has been a member of the European Union since 1st January 2007.


Alexander Litvinenko died on 23rd November 2006 in London. 

The report , by Sir Robert Owen (retired High Court Judge and the Litvinenko Inquiry Chairman), is detailed and extends to 329 pages.  Litvinenko was poisoned by Polonium 210.  Sir Robert concluded that the death was neither accidental nor suicide but that Mr Litvinenko had been poisoned by a Mr Andrey Lugovoy who was probably acting under the direction of the Russian State Security (the FSB).  Sir Robert went on to add that the FSB operation was probably approved by a Mr Nikolai Patrushev (Director of the FSB 1999-2008) and President Putin. The Litvinenko Inquiry report is now available via National Archives - HERE.

The history of the Litvinenko case is interesting and is set out in earlier posts on this blog -21st January 2016 and the links therein.  On 22 July 2014, the UK Home Secretary - then Theresa May - who had previously ruled out an inquiry on the grounds it might damage the country's relations with Moscow - announced a public inquiry into Litvinenko's death.  The terms of reference are set out in Sir Robert Owen's report - HERE at Appendix 2 and state - "there is no material within the relevant documents to suggest that, at any material time, Alexander Litvinenko was or ought to have been assessed as being at a real and immediate threat to his life, the inquiry will not address the question of whether the UK authorities could or should have taken steps which would have prevented the death."

Salisbury 2018:

On 4th March 2018, in Salisbury, Mr Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia became seriously ill.  Investigation has revealed that they were poisoned with a "nerve agent" which was later stated to be one of a group of such agents known as 'Novichok’ ("newcomer").  A Police Officer who went to the scene in Salisbury was also affected.  Investigation into this matter continues.

In the House of Commons on Monday 12th March, the Prime Minister (Theresa May) made a statement - HERE.   The debate may be viewed HERE comencing at 17.06.  The leader of the Opposition (Mr Jeremy Corbyn) referred to a "deeply alarming attack" but added that there was a need to see the evidence and obtain a full account from Russia.  Mrs May's statement said -

"Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

Mr Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March.

Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country.

Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others."

At the time of writing, no other credible explanations have been put forward but the UK government has 'demanded' an explanation from Russia.


The eventual response of the British government is awaited and will depend on what explanation, if any, Russia puts forward.  It seems likely, at least to me, that Russia will want to know full details of the material found in Salisbury and would respond in the light of that information.  The Chemical Weapons Convention (see below) will be very relevant to the investigation at an international level.

In this article, the BBC considers what action might be possible.  In this post I am not going to speculate on that but the article mentions "a British version of the 2012 Magnitsky Act" passed in the USA.  It is named after a Russian lawyer who died in custody after revealing alleged fraud by state officials and it is discussed in this post on the Human Rights Watch website.  The Magnitsky Act allows the executive branch to impose visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals anywhere in the world responsible for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption.

MPs have been pushing for a Magnitsky amendment to be added to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill now going through Parliament.*  To a considerable extent, this Bill is required due to Brexit.  As the government explains - (here) - "Many of our current sanctions regimes are established via powers in the European Communities Act 1972 (ECA). We will need new legal powers to replace these once the ECA is repealed. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will not provide the powers necessary to update, amend or lift sanctions after exit day in response to fast moving events. This would leave us in breach of our international obligations and unable to work effectively with our European and international partners to tackle shared challenges."

At a time when the UK government is pursuing Brexit, the case is strengthened for on-going and increasing co-operation within Europe over security and criminal justice matters.  Meanwhile, we must hope that those affected by this terrible event have a full recovery to good health.

Note - Sanctions and Anti - Money Laundering Bill ...

*  A bill to make provision enabling sanctions to be imposed where appropriate for the purposes of compliance with United Nations obligations or other international obligations or for the purposes of furthering the prevention of terrorism or for the purposes of national security or international peace and security or for the purposes of furthering foreign policy objectives; to make provision for the purposes of the detection, investigation and prevention of money laundering and terrorist financing and for the purposes of implementing Standards published by the Financial Action Task Force relating to combating threats to the integrity of the international financial system; and for connected purposes.

Further links:

In her statement, Mrs May referred to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.   The Organisation is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which entered into force in 1997. As of today OPCW has 192 Member States - including Russia.

Watching the Law - blogpost - A note on the Chemical Weapons Convention

Watching the Law - blogpost - The Salisbury attack - Further notes

OPCW 87th Executive Session - Statement by Mr Peter Wilson, UK representative

RT Question More - Judgment Day: Putin's midnight deadline has terminated, so what will Theresa May do next?

Just Security - Salisbury response option: take Putin to the International Criminal Court

Arms Control Association - The Chemical Weapons Convention at a Glance

Russian Embassy - various links

Update 14th March:

Statement of the Prime Minister to the House of Commons 14th March 2018 - here the Prime Minister set out some of the actions the government is to take including the expulsion from the UK of 23 Russian diplomats "who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers."

She said - "Mr Speaker, on Monday I set out that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a Novichok: a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia.

Based on this capability, combined with their record of conducting state sponsored assassinations – including against former intelligence officers whom they regard as legitimate targets - the UK government concluded it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for this reckless and despicable act."

Later she said - "They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent.

No explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom; no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons programme in contravention of international law.
Instead they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

So Mr Speaker, there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter - and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey.

This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom."

Letter from Prime Minister to UN Security Council

Update 15th March:

United Nations Security Council 14th March 2018 - video of 8203rd meeting

Update 16th March:

Novochok nerve agent used in Salisbury: UK government response

Update 19th March:

BBC News - Russian spy: International team to test Salisbury poison

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory - [dstl] - and link to dstl history - HERE

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