30 Questions Journalists Should Be Asking About the Skirpal Poisoning; Scott Ritter Explains Why Putin Isn’t Bluffing re Nuclear Weapons Capability; 4 Senators Call for Nuclear Negotiations with Russia, Trump Says He’ll Meet Putin Soon; Update on Ukraine

Police officers stand outside a branch of the Italian restaurant Zizzi where an ex-Russian spy and his daughter had dined before becoming ill. Picture: Getty Images

Police officers stand outside a branch of the Italian restaurant Zizzi where an ex-Russian spy and his daughter had dined before becoming ill. Picture: Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

By now you’ve probably all heard the most recent provocative news story that is causing the latest psychotic episode for the West with respect to Russia.  Former Russian spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter, Yulia, having been seriously poisoned in Salisbury, England earlier this month.   Of course, the British government led by PM Theresa May immediately blamed the Russian government before a thorough and independent investigation could have been completed.  And FM Boris Johnson has been publicly running with the accusations like a bull in a china shop, claiming inside information that the government has solid proof of the poisoning agent and its origins.

We’ve all been down this road before – laying the blame for an event at the doorstep of an adversary or the latest country/leader out of favor with the U.S. elite – before anyone could possibly know with certainty who the guilty party is.  Pretty convenient, eh?

Of course, I’ve seen plenty of articles propagating the British government’s line on the matter, along with plenty of skeptics putting forth good points on why we should not jump to conclusions about Russian government guilt.  But perhaps the best write-up I’ve seen in the latter category is by Rob Shane over at the Blogmire.com, called 30 Questions that Journalists Should Be Asking About the Skirpal Case:

[T]ere are a number of oddities in the official narrative, which do demand answers and clarifications. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist or a defender of the Russian state to see this. You just need a healthy scepticism, “of a type developed by all inquiring minds!”

Below are 30 of the most important questions regarding the case and the British Government’s response, which are currently either wholly unanswered, or which require clarification.

1. Why have there been no updates on the condition of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the public domain since the first week of the investigation?

2. Are they still alive?

3. If so, what is their current condition and what symptoms are they displaying?

4. In a recent letter to The Times, Stephen Davies, Consultant in Emergency Medicine at Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust, wrote the following:

“Sir, Further to your report (“Poison exposure leaves almost 40 needing treatment”, Mar 14) may I clarify that no patients have experienced nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning.”

His claim that “no patients have experienced nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury” is remarkably odd, as it appears to flatly contradict the official narrative. Was this a slip of the pen, or was it his intention to communicate precisely this — that no patients have been poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury?

5. It has been said that the Skripals and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey were poisoned by “a military grade nerve agent”. According to some claims, the type referred to could be anywhere between five and eight times more toxic than VX nerve agent. Given that just 10mg of VX is reckoned to be the median lethal dose, it seems likely that the particular type mentioned in the Skripal case should have killed them instantly. Is there an explanation as to how or why this did not happen?

6. Although reports suggested the involvement of some sort of nerve agent fairly soon after the incident, it was almost a week before Public Health England issued advice to those who had visited The Mill pub or the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury on the day that the Skripals fell ill. Why the delay and did this pose a danger to the public?

7. In their advice, Public Health England stated that people who had visited those places, where traces of a military grade nerve agent had apparently been found, should wash their clothes and:

“Wipe personal items such as phones, handbags and other electronic items with cleansing or baby wipes and dispose of the wipes in the bin (ordinary domestic waste disposal).”

Are baby wipes acknowledged to be an effective and safe method of dealing with objects that may potentially have been contaminated with “military grade nerve agent”, especially of a type 5-8 times more deadly than VX?

8. Initial reports suggested that Detective Sergeant Bailey became ill after coming into contact with the substance after attending the Skripals on the bench they were seated on in The Maltings in Salisbury. Subsequent claims, however, first aired by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Ian Blair on 9th March, said that he came into contact with the substance at Sergei Skripal’s house in Christie Miller Road. Reports since then have been highly ambiguous about what should be an easily verifiable fact. Which is the correct account?

9. The government have claimed that the poison used was “a military grade nerve agent of a typedeveloped by Russia”. The phrase “of a type developed by Russia” says nothing whatsoever about whether the substance used in the Salisbury case was produced or manufactured in Russia. Can the government confirm that its scientists at Porton Down have established that the substance that poisoned the Skripals and DS Bailey was actually produced or manufactured in Russia?

10. The former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has claimed that sources within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have told him that scientists at Porton Down would not agree to a statement about the place of origin of the substance, because they were not able to establish this. According to Mr Murray, only under much pressure from the Government did they end up agreeing to the compromise wording, “of a type developed by Russia”, which has subsequently been used in all official statements on the matter. Can the FCO, in plain and unambiguous English, categorically refute Mr Murray’s claims that pressure was put on Porton Down scientists to agree to a form of words and that in the end a much-diluted version was agreed?

I strongly encourage readers to read the rest of the post with the remaining 20 questions here

Craig Murray has been following the story from the beginning and has been providing great feedback with an insider’s perspective.  A recent post from him points out that a judge’s ruling within the past couple of days has proven that Boris Johnson and the British government’s pronouncements of certainty about the specific type of poison used and its origins are false:

…due to the judgement at the High Court case which gave permission for new blood samples to be taken from the Skripals for use by the OPCW. Justice Williams included in his judgement a summary of the evidence which tells us, directly for the first time, what Porton Down have actually said:

The Evidence
16. The evidence in support of the application is contained within the applications themselves (in particular the Forms COP 3) and the witness statements.

17. I consider the following to be the relevant parts of the evidence. I shall identify the witnesses only by their role and shall summarise the essential elements of their evidence.

i) CC: Porton Down Chemical and Biological Analyst

Blood samples from Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal were analysed and the findings indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound. The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent OR CLOSELY RELATED AGENT.

The emphasis is mine. This sworn Court evidence direct from Porton Down is utterly incompatible with what Boris Johnson has been saying. The truth is that Porton Down have not even positively identified this as a “Novichok”, as opposed to “a closely related agent”. Even if it were a “Novichok” that would not prove manufacture in Russia, and a “closely related agent” could be manufactured by literally scores of state and non-state actors.

This constitutes irrefutable evidence that the government have been straight out lying – to Parliament, to the EU, to NATO, to the United Nations, and above all to the people – about their degree of certainty of the origin of the attack. It might well be an attack originating in Russia, but there are indeed other possibilities and investigation is needed.

The Russian government has, of course, denied the attack with Putin stating that if the Russian government had pulled off such an assassination attempt with such a deadly type of agent, it would have been successful and the Skirpals would be dead.  He also reiterated that Russia’s chemical weapons stockpiles had been destroyed under the oversight of the OPCW.   Indeed, readers can go here to see the announcement last October by the OPCW that the destruction process had been completed.

In sum, we need to see more actual evidence of such a serious accusation against a foreign government, especially when unsubstantiated claims have already been made, turning said government into a bogeyman (e.g. Russiagate).   It’s not like the U.S. and UK governments wouldn’t lie to us about grave matters involving life and death regarding foreign governments.   Remember Iraq and Libya.

**************************************************************************

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter has written an article providing his expertise on the claims made by Putin in his recent Address to the Federal Assembly regarding nuclear weapons and defense capabilities.  As I stated in a blog post about this issue, it would be foolish for people to assume that Putin is bluffing.  Ritter comes to the same conclusion and questions the reaction of our highest-ranking defense officials:

The intellectual stasis displayed by both Mattis and Pompeo is disturbing. These are not so-called “experts” drummed up by the New York Times to further the anti-Putin narrative that has become the centerpiece of the Times’s coverage over the years, but rather serious professionals who hold the security of the United States in their hands. Putin’s pronouncements during his State of the Nation address weren’t a spur-of-the-moment articulation of fantasy, but rather, as he made quite clear, the byproduct of more than a decade of focused intent to counter the threat posed to Russian national security by America’s ballistic missile defense programs. Not only had Russia not masked its intentions in this regard, it had gone out of its way to make sure that the United States was aware of what it was doing and why. In 2007, Russia purposely leaked details about the RS-28 “Sarmat” heavy missile that featured prominently in Putin’s 2018 State of the Nation address to the CIA in a futile effort to get the United States to seriously engage in arms control negotiations.

The RS-28 is a direct descendant of the R-36 heavy ballistic missile, better known by its NATO reporting name, the SS-18 “Satan,” which over the course of its nearly 45 years in service has been an acknowledged game changer in terms of American-Russian strategic balance. The R-36’s large throw-weight (almost 20,000 pounds) allowed it to carry either a single extremely large warhead of 20 megatons or 10 independently targetable warheads of 500 to 750 kilotons each (by way of comparison, the American atomic bombs used to destroy the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War possessed yields of 21 and 15 kilotons, respectively). When the R-36 became operational, it gave the Soviets a genuine first-strike capability, able to eliminate over 60 percent of American missile launch control facilities and missile silos while retaining the capability to launch another 1,000 warheads as a second strike, should the United States choose to retaliate.

From its inception, the United States considered the R-36 the single most destabilizing strategic weapon in the Soviet arsenal and eliminating and/or limiting it became a focal point of American arms control efforts. The START I Treaty saw the number of R-36 missiles deployed reduced from 308 to 154, and the entire R-36 arsenal was scheduled to be eliminated under the terms of the START II Treaty. The decision by the United States to withdraw from the ABM Treaty in 2002, however, resulted in Russia withdrawing from the START II Treaty in response, and as such maintaining its fleet of R-36 missiles. Russia had planned on allowing the R-36 missile to be retired through obsolescence with no intended replacement; this was the intent behind its START II negotiating position.

Read the full article here

**************************************************************************

On March 8th, a week after Putin’s announcement of Russia’s capabilities, 4 U.S. Senators broke ranks with the strident and overwhelming anti-Russia sentiment in Washington and wrote a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson,  encouraging him to enter into new arms control negotiations with the Russians.   As a reminder of how bad the state of our mainstream media has become, the letter by Senators Bernie Sanders, Dianne Feinstein, Jeff Merkley, and Edward J. Markey got little to no major press coverage.   The full text of the letter is reproduced below:

As posted on the website of Senator Merkley 

March 8, 2018

The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to urge the State Department to convene the next U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue as soon as possible.

A U.S.-Russia Strategic Dialogue is more urgent following President Putin’s public address on March 1st when he referred to several new nuclear weapons Russia is reportedly developing including a cruise missile and a nuclear underwater drone, which are not currently limited by the New START treaty, and would be destabilizing if deployed.   There is no doubt we have significant disagreements with Russia, including Russia’s brazen interference in the 2016 U.S. elections; continued violation of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF); invasion of Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea; and destabilizing actions in Syria. However, it is due to these policy rifts, not in spite of them, that the United States should urgently engage with Russia to avoid miscalculation and reduce the likelihood of conflict.

First, we encourage the administration to propose alternative solutions to address Russia’s violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).  Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov admitted to the existence of this ground launched cruise missile (GLCM), but contended that the system was INF Treaty compliant.

Senior officials from the United States and Russia have said that the INF Treaty plays an “important role in the existing system of international security.” As such, we urge the State Department to resolve Russia’s violation through existing INF Treaty provisions or new mutually acceptable means.

Second, we urge the United States to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START).  The Trump administration’s own 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) references Russia’s robust nuclear modernization program as a main justification behind the U.S. need to recapitalize its three legs of the nuclear triad.  An extension of New START would verifiably lock-in the Treaty’s Central Limits – and with it – the reductions in strategic forces Russia has made.

The New START Treaty, which entered into force in 2011, provides transparency and predictability into the size and location of Russia’s strategic nuclear delivery systems, warheads, and facilities. New START’s robust verification architecture involves thousands of data exchanges and regular on-site inspections.The United States confirmed in February that Russia met New START’s Central Treaty Limits and it stated that “implementation of the New START Treaty enhances the safety and security of the United States.” These same Central Treaty Limits could also govern two of the new types of nuclear weapons referenced by President Putin on March 1st – a case the United States can argue through the Treaty’s Biannual Consultative Commission (BCC).

Lastly, as the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review notes, Russia maintains a numerical advantage to the United States in the number of non-strategic nuclear weapons. The Senate, in its Resolution of Ratification on New START in 2010, took stock of this imbalance and called upon the United States to commence negotiations that would “secure and reduce tactical nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner.” Attempts by the Obama administration to negotiate an agreement on this class of weapons met resistance from Russia.  However, even absent the political space for a formal agreement or binding treaty with Russia, we urge the State Department to discuss ways to enhance transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Extending New START, resolving Russia’s INF violation, and enhancing transparency measures relating to non-strategic nuclear weapons will also help quiet growing calls from many countries that the United States is not upholding its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations.  The Treaty’s three mutually reinforcing pillars: non-proliferation, peaceful uses of the atom, and disarmament can only be advanced through U.S. leadership on all three.

There is no guarantee that we can make progress with Russia on these issues.  However, even at the height of Cold War tensions, the United States and the Soviet Union were able to engage on matters of strategic stability.  Leaders from both countries believed, as we should today, that the incredible destructive force of nuclear weapons is reason enough to make any and all efforts to lessen the chance that they can never be used again.

Sincerely,

Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)

After Putin won re-election on March 18th, President Trump called him to congratulate him on his victory, reportedly against the advice of his national security staff.  Commenting on the call afterward, Trump stated publicly that he would probably be meeting soon with Putin to discuss the “arms race that is getting out of control.”

Sputnik News reported that the Kremlin characterized the conversation between the two presidents as “constructive and focused on addressing the problems in Russia-US relations.”

**************************************************************************

Conditions in Ukraine generally continue to deteriorate economically and in terms of human rights, but it’s also difficult to keep up with the general crazy twists and turns among the political class.  Granted, Ukraine has been a nation with significant divisions ever since its’ independence in the early 1990’s, mostly due to the fact that it’s western areas were historically under the control and influence of either the Poles or the Austro-Hungarian empire and the south eastern parts under the control and influence of the Russian empire.   It has not been uncommon to see corruption and fistfights in the Parliament throughout Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.   But since the Maidan and its reliance upon muscle from the far-right (e.g. Pravy Sektor,  Svboda and later the Azov battalion and the like), things are even more unstable.

For instance, Nadia Savchenko, once considered a hero of the Ukrainian nationalist movement who was convicted and jailed in Russia for her role in directing deadly military fire onto two Russian journalists and later released in a prisoner exchange, became a member of the Rada (Ukrainian parliament) and subsequently stated publicly that the far right groups on the Maidan were responsible for the murder of security agents and protesters.  She has now been stripped of her immunity as a parliamentarian and arrested for planning a terrorist attack against the government.  The Irish Times reported the following details:

Less than two years after Nadezhda Savchenko returned from a Russian prison to a hero’s welcome, the ex-military pilot dubbed “Ukraine’s Joan of Arc” is now accused of plotting to blow up Kiev’s parliament and massacre its deputies.The latest extraordinary claims from Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko – who recently accused former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili of planning a coup in Ukraine – are stoking a febrile political atmosphere that bodes ill for Ukraine’s stability ahead of major elections in 2019.

“The investigation has irrefutable evidence that Nadezhda Savchenko, a deputy of Ukraine, personally planned [and] personally gave instructions on how to commit a terrorist act here in this hall,” Mr Lutsenko told parliament.

He said that after using grenades and mortars to destroy much of the main chamber and the glass dome of the building in central Kiev, she intended to “use automatic rifles to finish off anyone who survived”.

Within days, it was reported by the Russian news agency Tass, that Savchenko had in fact been stripped of her parliamentary immunity and arrested:

KIEV, March 22. /TASS/. Ukrainian MP Nadezhda Savchenko has been detained in Kiev. Earlier in the day the Ukrainian parliament has upheld three requests from Prosecutor-General Yuri Lutsenko for the indictment of parliament member Nadezhda Savchenko and for her detention and arrest.

The decision to strip Savchenko of immunity was carried by a 291 majority vote. Her detention was supported by 277 legislators, with 11 opposing it; 268 voted for her arrest, and six, against.

….In her final statement Savchenko said that Ukraine should reform its political system and give voters a chance to revoke legislators and hold referendums. 

“Ukraine does have a way out without terrorist attacks and other problems that may ruin it. There is a simple and legal way – a reform of the political system,” she said.

Last month, Ukrainian president Poroshenko said he expected US arms shipments to arrive within weeks.  It was also reported by  Defense News that DARPA, the Pentagon’s “hi-tech office” has been operating in Ukraine to help Kiev with its “hybrid” warfare against the Donbas.  Neither of these actions bodes well for the prospects of peace in Ukraine.

As my fellow blogger and geopolitical writer, Greg Maybury pointed in a recent article at Consortium News, a confluence of factors make an escalation by Kiev in the Ukrainian civil war more likely:

Earlier this year, Gilbert Doctorow reported that a new draft law adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament and awaiting president Petro Poroshenko’s signature, threatens to escalate the Ukrainian conflict into a full-blown war, pitting nuclear-armed Russia against the United States and NATO. “Due to dire economic conditions,” Doctorow says, “Poroshenko and other government officials in Kiev have become deeply unpopular, and with diminished chances for electoral success may see war as politically advantageous.”

As history indelibly reminds us, this is an all too frequently recurring scenario in the conduct of international affairs. In a statement that undercuts much of the furor over the Russia-gate imbroglio, Doctorow observes that in contrast to the image of Trump administration policies being dictated by Moscow as portrayed by proponents of Russia-gate conspiracy theories, “the United States is moving towards deeper confrontation with the Kremlin in the geopolitical hotspot of Ukraine. For its part, the Kremlin has very little to gain and a great deal to lose economically and diplomatically from a campaign now against Kiev. If successful, as likely would be the case given the vast disparity in military potential of the two sides, it could easily become a Pyrrhic victory.” [My emphasis]

Read the full article here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *