BY JAMIE FOSTER
The attack by two Russian GRU agents on the Skripals was ‘more Johnny English than James Bond’ according to security minister Ben Wallace. He told LBC’s Nick Ferrari in a colourful interview that “they were sent as soldiers to do a mission and they failed in that mission.” He went on to say “I wouldn’t want to work for or with the GRU, they couldn’t run a bath.” He told Ferrari that the two had damaged the reputation of their agency and the Russian state.
Wallace is right. His words are well-chosen and his portrayal rightly scathing. As a former platoon commander in the Scots Guards he should be listened to.
Wallace went on to point out that Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn Russia over the incident pointing out that Corbyn is weak when it comes to security and that he wants to invite Russia to be involved in the investigations which, according to Wallace, would be like letting the fox inside the hen-house.
Charges of attempted murder have been laid against the two Russians in their absence and they have been identified as travelling under the aliases Alexander Petrov and Rusian Boshirov. According to police the two flew from Moscow to London in March. They travelled twice to Salisbury, once to recce the scene and once to kill the Skripals. Video of them near the Skripals’ house has been found and traces of the nerve agent novichok, used in the assassination attempt, was located in their hotel room.
The attack on the Skripals was part of a pattern of extra judicial killings carried out by the Russian State on foreign soil including the killing of Alexander Litvinenko. Russia is a murderous state happy to kill its enemies wherever they try to hide in the world.
The fact that this attack was so brazen makes it clear to me that the Russians were keen to deliver a message of “we frankly do not give a damn for your laws”.
Britain’s reaction to the assassination attempt on the Skripals has been muted. A number of Russian Diplomats have been sent home but that is the extent of the reaction. Russians own large amounts of property and investments in the UK which could be seized and yet further sanctions could be placed on Russia by the UK and allies – maybe further steps should be taken. The UK is trying to get the EU to act against Russia but we could surely be doing a lot more ourselves?
One person, Dawn Sturges, has died as a result of the novichock attack. Her partner Charlie Rowley found a bottle of counterfeit perfume in a charity box. The perfume contained novichock which killed Ms Sturges when she put some on. Prosecutors are considering whether to charge the two Russians in connection with the death of Ms Sturges and this seems sound but pointless.
Theresa May is convinced that Vladimir Putin himself was aware of and approved of the Salisbury attack. In the meantime the Russian Embassy in London has been using its Twitter account to spread conspiracy theories about the whole incident. They have suggested that Yulia Skripal was abducted and injected with chemicals by the UK government. The Russian approach is to use denial and distraction to hope to evade responsibility.
The question of how to deal with Russia is made more difficult by the fact that so many interests in the UK are fully or part-funded by Russian money. It is hard to act when politically powerful people have agendas that would prevent action from being taken. Nonetheless something must be done about a country that is running amok showing no respect for national borders and taking murderous actions with impunity.
At least a European arrest warrant has been issued for the two Russians suspected of carrying out the attack but there is no chance that they will be extradited from Russia. This means that the two are likely not to leave Russia again as they could be arrested and brought to Britain to face charges. They will probably be honoured in Russia with medals for their contribution to the state.
Overall this is a murky business. Made more worrying by the fact that very little attempt has been made to hide the attack by the two agents suspected of carrying it out. Direct flights to the UK were merely one of the unsubtle ways in which the plan was put into action. The UK knows that Russia and the Russian state is behind the attack and yet does very little in response. Such an attack could happen again at any time. The Skripals have gone into hiding, possibly for life, in order to avoid any further attempts being made on their lives. Jeremy Corbyn and Labour shamefully refuse to blame the Russians and the British Government refuses to do much about it beyond rhetoric. It is hard to see how the message is anything other than Russia can get away with it. Most unsatisfactory.