Willingness to Engage in a Power Struggle

LONDON/BERLIN | | grossbritannien

LONDON/BERLIN (Own report) - The German government still has no evidence to substantiate serious allegations it used to justify its participation in the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from several western countries. In its response to a parliamentary interpellation, the government admits it has no findings of its own on the Salisbury nerve gas attack other than the alleged evidence presented by the British government. At the same time, the "arguments" that have been presented so far to suggest Russian guilt are loosing their credibility. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), for example, had to contradict the claim of its director general that up to a half-cup of novichok was used in Salisbury. The assumption that only Russia could have produced the neurotoxin has been refuted, since it became known that Germany had also been in possession of the agent. These unproven allegations show, more than anything else, an unrestrained willingness to escalate the power struggle with Moscow.

 

"No Further Evidence"

The German government still has no evidence to substantiate the serious allegation that Russian officials could have been responsible for the March 4 nerve gas attack on the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in the small British town of Salisbury. Without hesitation, numerous western governments pinned the blame on Russia and, in a concerted punitive action in late March, expelled nearly 150 Russian diplomats from altogether 26 countries.[1] No evidence has ever been presented supporting an alleged Russian guilt. In its recent answer to a parliamentary interpellation by the Left Party in the Bundestag, the government has confirmed that its decision to expel four Russian diplomats from Germany had been solely based on figures presented by British officials. "The UK had ... explained in detail that Russia is most likely responsible and that there is no other plausible explanation," according to an official declaration. "The German government has no further evidence."[2]

"A Half-Cup Novichok"

For weeks however, the inconsistencies in the British allegations have been growing more numerous. Already the specifications presented about the nerve agent used in the attack are contradictory. According to official information, British investigating bodies assume that the handle on Skripal's apartment door had been treated with a "novichok" impregnated gel. Ahmet Üzümcü, Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) refuted this allegation in early May, claiming that the agent was used in liquid form, possibly also as a spray containing as much as 50-100 grams - "from slightly less than a quarter-cup to a half-cup of liquid."[3] These specifications are important, because, according to experts, such a large quantity of novichok was significantly more than that required for research purposes, but rather for chemical weapons production. On the other hand, the quantity would correspond to the volume of liquid (100 milliliters at most) allowed onboard civilian flights, suggesting that it could have been imported from abroad. However, experts immediately challenged Üzümcü's allegation: 50 to 100 grams novichok would be enough to poison everyone in Skripal's surrounding neighbourhood. Contradicting its director general, the OPCW stated that it "would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used." The quantity should nonetheless probably be characterized in milligrams.[4]

Hypocrisy

Along with these inconsistencies pertaining to the neurotoxin itself, the argument that only Russia could have ordered the use of novichok, since it had once developed and it may still have stocks of the agent, cannot be sustained. This allegation had, in any case, never been taken seriously. After all, the inventor of novichok, Vil Mirzayanov, had not only divulged his knowledge of the nerve agent after he fled to the United States in the 1990s, but also declared on various occasions that it was easy to produce, and published its formula in 2008.[5] However, the allegation was absolutely invalidated, when the Czech Republic's President Milos Zeman admitted in early May that novichok had been produced in a military research institute in Brno in November 2017. Even though only small quantities had been produced for research purposes, and had been subsequently destroyed, it "would be hypocrisy," Zeman said "to do as if nothing had been done."[6] Already back in the days of socialism, Czechoslovak research in chemical weapons was considered to be very advanced. This is one of the reasons NATO has installed its Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiation & Nuclear Defence Centre of Excellence (JCBRN Defence) in Vyškov, around ten km northeast of Brno - also in close proximity to the Czech's military laboratory. After it became known that novichok had been produced in that facility, its director was immediately fired.

Nerve Agent for the BND

In mid-May it had been reported that Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) also was in possession of novichok. In the 1990s, a BND agent, according to the reports, was able to acquire a sample of the neurotoxin - from a Russian scientist, who, along with divulging what he knows about the nerve agent, had also promised to supply German authorities with a small sample, in return for the right to safely reside in Germany. The German Chancellery and the defense ministry had agreed to the deal. The sample had been analyzed in a Swedish laboratory. The BND and the German Ministry of Defense were then provided the formula. Subsequently, German experts had participated in a NATO task force that had consolidated all knowledge on novichok.[7] Alongside the BND, intelligence services from the United States, Canada, Great Britain and the Netherlands were also participating.[8] As was reported, some of the NATO countries had produced small quantities of the neurotoxin - to then develop protective gear, measuring instruments and antidotes.

Insinuations

Apparently, in an effort to justify with new arguments supporting the increasingly obvious baselessness of their accusations of Russia, intelligence service circles began, a few days ago, to leak reports to the media on Skripal's activities over the past few years. Skripal - who had ended his work with the Russian military intelligence service (GRU) in 1999, was arrested in Russia for spying on behalf of Great Britain in 2004 and was allowed in 2010 to resettle in the United Kingdom through a spy swap - recently became active again in intelligence work, according to these reports. Under mediation of Britain's MI6, he had given lectures to Czech and Estonian agents on the methods and work of the Russian services. This, they allege, could have made him a target for Russian attacks.[9] However this insinuation has little credibility. On the one hand, it is by no means unusual for former spies to earn extra money by lecturing, to supplement their often not very generous government pensions. On the other, Skripal has been out of the business since 1999, has long since provided the British MI6, for whom he had been working, with all he knows and is even incapable of providing insider information on developments and personnel within the Russian services since more than two decades. He therefore poses no threat to Russian services.

Unrestrained Escalation

A few days ago, British police officials have in fact reaffirmed that they are a long way from resolving the case, indicating that it could still take "months" of meticulous investigation.[10] Berlin's readiness to raise serious accusations against Moscow, without any evidence demonstrates the German elite's unrestrained willingness to escalate the power struggle with Moscow, regardless of international legal standards.

 

[1] 19 EU states participated in the expulsions, along with the USA, Canada, Norway, Australia, Macedonia, Albania, Ukraine and NATO. However, Luxembourg, Portugal, Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus and Malta did not participate also because of lack of evidence.

[2] Marion Trimborn: Bundesregierung hat keine eigenen Erkenntnisse über Fall Skripal. noz.de 18.05.2018.

[3] Patrick Wintour: Chemical weapons watchdog amends claim over Salisbury novichok. theguardian.com 04.05.2018.

[4] OPCW Spokesperson’s Statement on Amount of Nerve Agent Used in Salisbury. opcw.org 04.05.2018.

[5] See also Auf dem Weg in den Weltkrieg.

[6] Was heißt hier eigentlich Nowitschok? Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 05.05.2018.

[7] Georg Mascolo, Holger Stark: BND beschaffte Nervengift "Nowitschok" in den 90er Jahren. sueddeutsche.de 16.05.2018.

[8] Klaus Wiegrefe: Alliierte wussten schon vor BND von Nowitschok. spiegel.de 18.05.2018.

[9] Michael Schwirtz, Ellen Barry: Sergei Skripal Was Retired, but Still in the Spy Game. Is That Why He Was Poisoned? nytimes.com 14.05.2018.

[10] Ex-spy Sergei Skripal discharged after poisoning. bbc.co.uk 18.05.2018.