Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's shock announcement about a Swiss lab's discovery that the chemical agent used in the Skripal attack was laced with the BZ military-grade incapacitating agent has put a major dent in London's credibility in the poisoning investigation.
Speaking to media on Saturday, Lavrov pointed out that BZ is stocked by the US and the UK, but has never been produced by Russia or the Soviet Union. Specialists from Switzerland's Spiez Laboratory issued their report on March 27, concluding that the sample of the substance used in the Skripal case which they had been provided contained traces of BZ.
In a Tweet on Saturday, the Spiez Lab reiterated Lavrov's statement, but added that "only [the] OPCW can comment [FM Lavrov's] assertion." The indirect language prompted comments urging the Swiss lab to be more specific.
You're in the best position to say what your findings were. Answering that you have no doubt PD had identified Novichock is like answering a question with a riddle. What the worlds needs is straightforwardness.— Winble (@Katebuffery01) 14 апреля 2018 г.
Especially when this is what Porton Down said which is not entirely specific pic.twitter.com/1Qea8ognuC— Winble (@Katebuffery01) 15 апреля 2018 г.
#OPCW report does not confirm "nerve agent" in #Salisbury It confirms only "toxic chemical". Stephen Davies of #NHS reports "no patients" w "symptoms of nerve agent poisoning" #PortonDown #Skripal #ChristopherSteele #PabloMiller #Orbis #BorisJohnson #CrowdStrike #novichok #BZ pic.twitter.com/x8DINTUcxA— Adrian (@rimbaud22ca) 14 апреля 2018 г.
Where's the 'Russian Trace' Again?
Incidentally, OPCW Technical Secretariat report issued this week did not confirm London's claims of Russian involvement in the Skripal poisoning, as the Foreign Office has implied, but only that an analysis of the chemical matched the analysis of the Porton Down lab. The document makes no mention of the country of origin.
The OPCW has completed its independent analysis of the chemical substance used in the Salisbury attack. The report confirms the UK’s findings. pic.twitter.com/4JAGJjJcYt— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) 12 апреля 2018 г.
Furthermore, the UK's Porton Down lab itself never said that the nerve agent came from Russia, as the Foreign Office earlier claimed; this allegation already prompted a minor scandal last week which culminated in the Foreign Office deleting a tweet which said that the poison was "a military-grade Novichok* agent produced in Russia," and Porton Down issuing a statement that it was "never [their] responsibility to confirm the source of the agent."
Why would @foreignoffice delete this tweet from 22 March? pic.twitter.com/Nvu1BfJw9J— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) 4 апреля 2018 г.
Our experts have precisely identified the nerve agent as a Novichok. It is not, and has never been, our responsibility to confirm the source of the agent @skynews @UKmoments— Dstl (@dstlmod) 3 апреля 2018 г.
In the new Technical Secretariat report, the chemical's name and structure of the chemicals are not revealed. This information is contained only "in the full classified report…available to the States Parties," according to the report's summary.
Who's Speaking for Yulia?
Despite the seriousness of their poisoning and the extremely deadly nature of the nerve agent they were exposed to, the Skripals are said to have made an astonishing recovery, with Sergei coming out of his coma last week, and Yulia feeling so well that she was discharged from hospital on April 10 and taken to a secure location.
The #Salisbury District Hospital confirmed the day before that Yulia #Skripal had been released from the medical facility the same day, while the BBC reported that Yulia was taken to a ‘secure location’ https://t.co/2BixNyNeEW pic.twitter.com/wOb5nZwb0N— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) 11 апреля 2018 г.
On April 5, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement 'on behalf of Yulia Skripal' confirming the progress in her recovery. A week later, on April 11, the Met issued a second statement, saying that she had been discharged from hospital and now has "specially trained officers available" helping to "take care of me and explain the investigative processes that are being undertaken."
In the second statement, Yulia says that while she has "access to friends and family," she also asks that her cousin Viktoria "does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being." The friends and family line sounds odd, to say the least, given that Viktoria and Elena Skripal, her grandmother, with whom Viktoria lives, are the Skripals' only close living relatives.
Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko has pointed to the oddities regarding the Skripals' current status. Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, the ambassador said that there were serious questions which remain unanswered regarding the pair's recovery. He asked, for example, why the Russian Embassy, and even the UK media, have not been access to the Skripals, and why UK authorities have not presented any evidence that the statements said to be coming from Yulia are her own. London has not provided any photo or video evidence, or even any handwritten statements to confirm this, Yakovenko noted.
The Embassy, he said, would just like to confirm at this point that Yulia is alive and well, and to know whether she is being subjected to undue pressure.
The Skripals were found unconscious in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4, 2018, suffering the symptoms of poisoning. A week later, London blamed Moscow for the attack, and began preparing a punitive response, including diplomatic expulsions. Moscow denied the allegations and proposed a joint investigation, which the UK refused.
*Novichok, also known as A-234 nerve agent