Novichok suspects

With good reason, the news that the British police have identified two suspects in the Salisbury novichok poisoning case confirms what most people already thought – that those responsible came from Russia. The claims that the alleged perpetrators were agents of the Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, and that the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal was ordered by somebody at a high level outside the GRU remain unproven. Nevertheless, the latest news puts the Russian government in an awkward position and places a serious burden of responsibility on it to take action against the alleged assassins.

The British police have said that the names of the two assassins – Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – are likely aliases, and have appealed for help in discovering their true identities. The British government, meanwhile, has said that the two are GRU agents. This is somewhat problematic. How can the British know that the pair work for the GRU if they don’t actually know who they are??

‘Aleksandr Petrov’ and ‘Ruslan Boshirov’ in Salisbury.

Also problematic was a statement by British Prime Minister Theresa May, who said today that:

The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command. So this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.

This may well be true, but it is an assumption not a fact, and personally I tend not to assume too much discipline on the part of Russians. As yet, the Russian state must remain a prime suspect in the affair, but the case against it cannot be considered closed.

Still, if it is true, as reported, that traces of novichok were found in the two men’s hotel room, it is next to impossible to deny that they were indeed the people responsible for the attack (while also raising some interesting questions about how they failed to poison themselves, and so on). Given this, we can say with some certitude that the assassins travelled to the UK from Russia on Russian passports. That places a serious burden of responsibility on the Russian government to do something to address what was a serious crime. If the two weren’t GRU agents, as the Russians insist, then the only way for the Russian authorities to clear their own name is to help the British identify Petrov and Borishov and then take action against them. Failure to do so will inevitably be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

20 thoughts on “Novichok suspects”

  1. “That places a serious burden of responsibility on the Russian government to do something to address what was a serious crime. If the two weren’t GRU agents, as the Russians insist, then the only way for the Russian authorities to clear their own name is to help the British identify Petrov and Borishov and then take action against them. Failure to do so will inevitably be interpreted as an admission of guilt.”

    Hype-eating, Professor? 🙂 Her Majesty’s Government refused to cooperate with Russia’s Authorities. They failed to answer numerous requestes at producing the needed proof and filing necessary appeals for receiving any kind of the answer.

    Your being good Officer of Her Majesty is duly noted, though. Ватно, very ватно, I must say 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I agree with the Lyttenburgh. GRU/FSB persons litter the landscape much like the wide variety western IC (Intel Community) types across the globe. To find Russian IC persons, given Sailsbury’s proximity to Porton Down, can’t surprise anyone either. Blaming Russian IC is low-hanging fruit. The US Russiagate-related indictment of a GRU group shows how to blame without the need to prove. It’s all of a piece political art. No facts need be presented to the press, nor to the people.(aka ‘Mushroom Messaging’: keep ’em in the dark and feed ’em sh*t).

    This adds to the negative perceptions of Russia that would make any US/UK military/economic responses to a likely false flag chemical weapon even in Syria, a slam dunk.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. From Craig Murray: An article on photos of the two Russians arriving at Gatwick on 2 March 2018. They are photographed in the same place at the same time with no sign of the other within walking distance. Another oddity, the two are photographed separately at 16:22:43 yet the caption to one says 15:00:00.

    Murray puts this down to Met photo manipulation.

    The UK knows Russia will not extradite the real Russians, so this is intended to be another Litvinenko – the show that goes on and on and on, dragged out by the UK government whenever convenient.


    1. Bernard at the Moon of Alabama, one of the bloodhounds on the evidence trail, offered this as his top argument. I haven’t boarded a plane at Gatwick for ages any one of you guys? Apparently our associations sometimes run on parallel mental strings. This one was on my mind vaguely too.

      Update: I am prepared to acknowledge that, given the gate design, they could have passed through different gates in exact synchronicity and this may be a red herring. I am leaving this post up here as it is good to acknowledge mistakes.

      But isn’t it fascinating, we do not need to read John Le Carre or followers in the genre anymore. It’s all unfolding around us in real time in the news? And on the web.

      Bernard updated too, offering us a shot of the scene. via Bruce Leidl:


      1. A commenter at MoA, “Norwegian”, has suggested that one of the images (both reproduced in Yonatan’s comment above) has been flipped and can be matched to the other image. See the flipping and matching at Norwegian’s GIF:

        Another MoA commenter, Wellington Yueh, notes that the security gate on Petrov’s right looks wonky: the top bar is sloping downwards towards the bar beneath. In the other photo, the top bar on Boshirov’s left has the downward slope.

        So unless the exit gates at the International Arrivals all have these alternating wonky sloping top bars, with some on the left-hand side and some on the right, there is still the possibility that the two photos released by London Met Police have been manipulated.


  4. Paul, I was a bit taken back with this report at first sight. However, upon closer scrutiny, as usual in these sagas of British propaganda, it falls apart. Nothing is done to make a real case against the Russians, in fact the very mention of some issue takes the wind out of the sails of those arguments – some of them you point out yourself.
    1- The identities were fake. Did they identify them by face-recognition technology? There is already a disparacy between May and the Met officer on the GRU identity thing.
    2- The pictures were doctored, although the extent of it may be less than what Craig Murray alleged. Still, they were taken down from the MET website.
    3- Why not forward fingerprints to the Russians? Substantiate allegations? Was evidence really submitted to Interpol – or is that just a bluff/ruse again? It is suspect that the British are saying that they won’t seek extradition – why not, even if they don’t get it they can make plenty of bad publicity for the Russians by not getting it – but they would have to give some evidence to Russian prosecutors. Is that the real issue?
    4- We see pics, but chain of evidence? Fingerprints on the bottle? Actual presence at the crime scene(s)? How do you lift this from a very shaky circumstantial case into actual evidence?
    5- Where is the chemical evidence? Who can corroborate the substantial issues raised by British professors about the nature of Novichok vs the apparent very mild and long-winded effects? Where is the scientific explanation for ‘very pure’ sample taken 3 weeks after the fact, very arbitrary effects of the low-grade hotel room residu vs low-grade but lethal residue in Amesbury, and the non-lethal Skripal samples? How does one scientifically explain no effect on these two suspects, none on the hotel cleaning staff or most people in Salisbury, etc etc?
    The timing of this is suspect, since supposedly these suspects were identified 2 months ago. Why, if evidence is so scant, does it come out only now – at a coincidence of either May being completely ridiculed and weak, or Syria about to suffer another false flag chemical attack due to Russia’s preeminent victory in Idlib, or the Woodward case in the US?
    Paul, I have a very low view of British intelligence services. Their ruses are very transparent. They helped with setting up the chemical false flags in Syria (which the Russians exposed), but the sheer incompetence in the Skripal affair was mind-boggling.
    It’s pretty clear the only competent intel services are the Russians and the Israeli’s. All the others are stuck in a whirlwind of delusions.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. For what it is worth, I am in your camp on this Paul. It is certainly in the Russian government’s interest to try to sort this out. If heads should roll in the GRU then so be it. There is still the possibility, for example, that the suspects are Ukrainian though given the Brits confidence this might not be very likely. For sure, many aspects of the scenario are very puzzling.


    1. Now that it is getting real, if your camp, or your reading is that this will have a political fallout. I am in that camp to. Obviously this is case. The rest is dishwater, to vaguely borrow from an American writer.


    2. Britain was confident about WMD and Saddam attacking us in 45 minutes. How did that turn out?

      These guys may have done it ( taking public transport there and back with deadly poison )

      The UK should have followed the proper conventions and spoke to the Russians exchanging information etc.

      The fact they didn’t and won’t give the finger print and other evident shows that there is another agenda at play – it’s not about justice it’s about smearing Russia.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Another thing to bear in mind is the current state of British politics. When in trouble concentrate on a traditional enemy. releasing the information now is pretty convenient

    The maybot government is a shambles, failing public services, a stagnant economy, a crime problem (particularly in London), the Windrush scandal and the giant shadow of Brexit.

    The Tories are in complete disarray regarding Britain’s future relationship with the EU. None of the proposed options are free of drawbacks and any transition is likely to be pretty traumatic. There are scare stories in the press about flights being cancelled, lines of trucks at the ports, running out of medicine etc. The EU has its own ideas which are not that palatable to Brexit supporters, such as effective sovereignty sharing over Northern Ireland. The Labour party who are the main opposition have their own divisions and are currently in a split over perceived antisemitism.

    So what does any leader do? – Blame an old enemy for a crime for which they may be responsible. Some suspects have been identified but there are still holes in the story, But nevermind, if we push the media narrative then we can unite and drown out all the real problems which are much harder to solve

    Britain will lose influence and standing as a result of Brexit, hence the fawning over Trump two months ago. Brits will also look to throw their weight around in order to look big, particularly if the Brexit transition proves to be difficult. Russia looks like an escape valve for the British establishment to grandstand and virtue signal, what I fear is that this may have very unpleasant long term consequences for all.


  7. A few months ago, I enquired about PR’s priors concerning mischief-making on the part of British and Russian intelligence, since his background would give him some inside perspective. I think it would be helpful to both the readers of this blog and to PR himself to make those priors explicit.

    For what it’s worth, my own prior is that since in this case the British government is making claims with no room for potential falsification, I have no reason to take their claims seriously. Note that this situation differs from that of the claims of Western and Russian governments concerning chemical attacks in Syria, since those are at least falsifiable in principle, and all parties, to greater or lesser degree, are cooperating with the relevant organizations that could falsify those claims.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. We cannot be sure that the two men were Russian agents. The burden of proof should be on the British government, not the Russian government, to show that these two men were Russians. But if the British refuse to yield information to Russia when Russia asks for it in order to help, then what might that say about the British claims?


  9. A good sign I think. According to TASS, Maria Zakharova has stated: “There is a need to find out who these people are, if there are such citizens…We want to do this as quickly and efficiently as possible and that’s why we again ask the United Kingdom to help identify these persons… If the UK refuses to do this, we will have to go a longer way.”


  10. The burden of proof is on the accuser not the accused.

    Just because someone says something does not mean it is true.

    There’s also a big difference between what Theresa May said in parliament (she can say what she wants in parliament) and what the police said.

    The police statement said they need more information and asked the public for help!!
    The did not say anything about this being the work of GRU or the Russian State.

    The UK government if they have all the proof should present it to the Russians

    Instead they play political games. And make a big performance out of it,

    Why not give the finger print information from the visa to the Russian government?

    Theresa May got all the political capital from this story in March – she’s not interested in justice so why should the Russians ?


    1. If it is true, as the Brits assert, that there were traces of novichok in the room of the accused then your point about random people is very much weakened. (Of course, it is easy to imagine that any such novichok was planted by British security.) As crimes in global politics go, the attack on the Skripals, if that is what it was, is pretty minor. However, it has long ago morphed into something other than a legal case. At least the British accusations are now quite specific, so there must be the possibility that the Russian government can show them to be false. My guess is that the “Russians” will be unable to extricate themselves from the mess in which they find themselves- I quite respect President Putin, and sometimes I think that if I were he, I would just want to scream. (Sorry to read that you are still upset that the Brits have jettisoned their principles.)


  11. Regarding this piece:

    “If the two weren’t GRU agents, as the Russians insist, then the only way for the Russian authorities to clear their own name is to help the British identify Petrov and Borishov and then take action against them. Failure to do so will inevitably be interpreted as an admission of guilt.”

    Given that the British Government refuses all requests for cooperation from Russia and seems likely to continue that trend, there seems little possibility that anything Russia does or can do would do any good.

    If Russia finds and interrogates the two individuals whatever they have to say will be discounted because russia cant be relied upon to interrogate them. The UK Gov would be unlikely to accept an offer of interrogating them in Russia once again claiming Russia cant be trusted because they are guilty. If Russia comes out with details showing they are not related to any Russian government service, this too would be written off as false because once again, the Russians cant be trusted.

    I honestly cant see any way in which the Russian government could actually improve the situation. If we accept that the UK goverment wishes to blame it on Russia (which has been obvious since the very beginning) then there is no scenario in which they will allow any doubt that Putin himself has ordered it. Any explanation that suggests otherwise will be instantly shot down as further proof that Russia cant be trusted whether by the government themselves or by the press who trust the word of western government officials despite repeated instances of outright bullshit over the past two decades alone, because the Russian government is uniquely untrustworthy.


    1. You make very good points

      Britain will always turn round and say

      “ why should we believe anything the Russians say”

      There attitude is outright prejudiced against the Russians.

      The one thing I think the Russians should do is

      Call in the British ambassador to Moscow

      Request that they be given the information in order to conduct their enquiries

      Tell him in no uncertain terms that if this information is not forthcoming

      They will shut the embassy in Moscow within 48hours.

      Why have a relationship with a state that accuses you of being a terrorist using chemical weapons?

      Also Britain lied about the spy scandal with the Rock – does anyone remember that?

      So why this blind trust in what governments say?

      The British along with the Americans are determined to keep Cold War 2 going.

      They were responsive for the steel dossier which is used to beat Trump over the head with Ruussiagate.


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