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Post Skripal Poisoning: How Should the UK Respond?
Created by John Eipper on 03/12/18 3:50 AM

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Skripal Poisoning: How Should the UK Respond? (Boris Volodarsky, Austria, 03/12/18 3:50 am)

Regarding the Skripal case, I am working on it almost 24/7 and must say that nothing is clear yet.

By some barely noticeable indicators, we can assume that this is the work of either the SVR or GRU, but this still has to be proved. The most difficult part is to figure out the reason. The second problem is to determine how it was done.

But responding to Istvan Simon's post of 11 March, I would ask Istvan to think and tell us what he personally would do in this situation if he were the prime minister of Great Britain.

JE comments: We should heed Boris Volodarsky's first sentence, and remember that nothing has been proven. Still, the Skripal case has a clear Putinian "signature."  For starters, how easy would it be for non-state actors to procure a nerve agent?

As for British responses, what about setting up a rival World Cup in the UK?  This would be a major embarrassment for Putin, especially after his country's banning from the 2018 Winter Olympics.  (I'm sure, ahem, the US team would be happy to participate.)

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  • How Should UK Retaliate for Skripal Poisoning? (Istvan Simon, USA 03/13/18 12:59 PM)
    Boris Volodarsky (March 12th) asked me what I would do as Prime Minister of the UK about the attempted murder of Skripal and his daughter and the reckless endangerment of over 500 innocent bystanders, one of whom, the policeman who attempted to help the Skripals, is himself in grave danger of losing his life or perhaps suffering terrible consequences for the rest of his life, if he survives.

    I am not privy to any details of the investigation, so my conclusions are merely that of an observer without inside knowledge. As such, it seems to me that there would be no motive for anyone to commit such reckless and horrendous acts except for the Russian government. If I were Prime Minister of the UK I would of course know a lot more than I do.

    So back to Boris's question. Her majesty's Government has several options on what to do:

    1. Retaliation:  This would involve the assassination or attempted assassination in Russia or wherever they may be at any time in the future of the people involved in the case. That would certainly include the direct perpetrators of these crimes, and of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko as well. It should include their superiors as well who ordered these dastardly acts.

    2. I'd have ordered the stopping of the agents who perpetrated these crimes from leaving the UK so they could respond in UK law enforcement and UK courts for their crimes, and help identify their superiors who ordered the crimes. Even Malaysia did better than the UK, in that they detained everyone involved in the assassination of Kim Jong Nam. It is unbelievable that Her Majesty's Government with all the surveillance that exists in the UK could not arrest the assassins of Litvinenko or the attempted assassins of Skripal and his daughter before they left the UK.

    3. Issue international arrest warrants for all identified as involved in all these cases.

    4. Expulsion of all Russian "diplomats" involved in the case. I'd also consider breaking diplomatic relations with Russia.

    5. Seize and freeze Russian assets in the UK. Order the partial use of these assets as compensation to the survivors of the victims of these crimes.

    6. Ordering severe economic sanctions that would hit the Russian government and oligarchs closely associated with the Russian government directly.

    7. Ask other governments friendly to the UK to act in solidarity and take similar actions themselves.

    I do not consider staying away from sporting events in Russia an adequate response, unless they involve many countries acting in solidarity.

    JE comments:  Solution #1 strikes me as barbaric, and could be interpreted as an act of war.  (Since he may have ordered the hits, are you going to "take out" Putin himself?)  I like option #5:  hit 'em in the pocketbook.  But won't the London financiers raise a hue and cry about losing the Russian money?

    Today's huge diplomatic bombshell:  Trump told his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, "you're fired."  What are WAISdom's thoughts?

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    • Retaliation for Skripal Poisoning? Response to Istvan Simon (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 03/14/18 3:47 AM)
      I thoroughly enjoyed Istvan Simon's post of 13 March. No joke; thank you, Istvan.

      One thing I feel confident about: Her Majesty will think twice before appointing you her Prime Minister, although just between us I do not know what she found in Mrs May.

      Now to your points:

      1. Assassinations in retaliation would not only be terrorism, this is certain war. I am especially excited at the prospect of seeing all "their" superiors assassinated, including of course those who "probably" gave orders. What the hell, all of them plus their parliament, which surely supported this decision as they did with Georgia in 2008, the Crimea in 2014 and Eastern Ukraine.

      2. Arresting the assassins is not possible because (a) even in the Litvinenko case I am not sure anyone knows who did it. All claims about Lugovoy and Kovtun have absolutely no grounds, believe me. (b) Those involved with Mr Skripal and his daughter are not identified, so you won't reach them whoever they are. But they are surely not in the UK.

      3. Arrest warrants have been issued, but...

      4. Breaking diplomatic relations with Russia would automatically presume breaking diplomatic relations with the UK. Just think for a moment what can follow. (Although after point 1, these are trifles.)

      5. If the UK confiscates Russian assets, the same will be done with British assets--and this is a lot.

      6. They have been trying to do sanctions for some time already, but...

      7. Getting other nations to join the sanctions is a very difficult job. What countries do you mean--Germany, France, EU in general after Brexit? New Zealand? Russia will be terribly frightened.

      Adding to JE's worries about London financiers and real estate moguls, they will probably also lose their pants. And many people could lose their lives. Some have already.

      No, no, I am afraid you still have to try hard to win a place at number 10 Downing Street.

      JE comments:  Boris, isn't video surveillance ubiquitous in the UK?  Even the tranquil campus of Adrian College is watched by dozens of cameras.  I am surprised that in the Skripal case, they cannot check the footage and identify the culprits.

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      • Surveillance in UK and Skripal Case (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 03/15/18 4:19 AM)
        John E asked me on March 14th: "Isn't video surveillance ubiquitous in the UK? I am surprised that in the Skripal case, they cannot check the footage and identify the culprits."

        My answer is as follows:

        Video surveillance is indeed omnipresent in the UK. During the Litvinenko investigation I explained to SO15 (Scotland Yard, Special Operation anti-terror) officers that they are always taking the wrong course of action, thinking a bird can be caught by chasing her. There are hundreds of people who are scanning the footage day and night and there were enough CCTV cameras in Salisbury. The problem is they are looking in the wrong direction because they compare Skripal's poisoning with that of Kim's half-brother in the Malaysian airport. In academic circles, it is known as pattern thinking. In most situations like we have now, this is wrong.

        JE comments:  Given that they know the day and approximate hour of the Skripal poisoning, I wouldn't think it would take hundreds of agents very long to uncover something on the videos.  Boris, have you heard any confirmation of the rumor circulating in Salisbury (per Nigel Jones) that two Russian employees of Zizzi have disappeared?  The restaurant has since re-opened, according to its website.  It might be interesting to drop in for a gawk, but would you want to eat there?

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      • Surveillance in UK...and Another Suspicious Death (John Heelan, UK 03/15/18 5:02 AM)
        JE asked on March 14th: "Isn't video surveillance ubiquitous in the UK?"

        Yes, it is! It has been estimated that each of us Brits appears some 300 times per day on CCTV video records, not counting the number of times our vehicles appear on Automatic Number Plate Recognition systems of motorways and local roads.

        By the way, another Russian exile who was close friends with the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky has been found dead in his London home, according to friends. Nikolai Glushkov, 68, was discovered by his family and friends late on Monday night. The cause of death is not yet clear. One of his friends, the newspaper editor Damian Kudryavtsev, posted the news on his Facebook page.

        JE comments:  I hope Boris Volodarsky will comment on this latest incident.  Is this yet another suspicious death, or had Glushkov's natural "time" just come?  Either way, if I were a Russian oligarch on the outs with Putin, I'd avoid the UK altogether.

        Re:  video surveillance.  My 92-year-old aunt recently received a letter from the state of Maryland, accusing her of driving through a toll booth without paying--on her motorcycle!  (Auntie still drives, but on four wheels.)  So much for the infallibility of technology.

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        • "Pattern Thinking" and the Skripal Case (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 03/17/18 7:43 AM)

          Below are my comments on John Eipper's and John Heelan's posts of 15 March:

          It is indeed a rather time-consuming and laborious effort of a large group of people to check all video footage in town for some time period.  Indeed, to my mind, it is Sisyphean labour.

          Today I had a long session with the team from The Times trying to explain that. To begin with, neither the time nor the place of poisoning have been established so far. As I mentioned in my recent post, they have started working from a wrong assumption and continue to do it ("pattern thinking," as I mentioned before), having as an example a murder case in the Malaysian airport. In the highly developed and experienced world of the Russian murder machine, assassinations are not done in this way. You cannot simply come to the Zizzi restaurant and get deliberately poisoned by a Slavic-looking waiter as well as you cannot drop by the Millennium Bar and get your teacup laced with polonium.

          No, this is not possible in the professional world because the assassins are not hooligans or bandits or idiots. For professional assassins trained by the secret service, to kill a person is to do their job correctly, according to the books. While they must never get caught, they should always think about the deniability so that the state that has sent them and stands behind them could never been caught red-handed and there should always be a place for doubts. So whatever the rumours, whether there were Russian waiters in the Italian restaurant in Salisbury or not, it does not matter. Skripal and his daughter were not poisoned there.

          Regarding the murder of Nikolai Glushkov, whom I knew personally, it is already in all media, at least British and Russian. To my mind, it has a direct link to the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter--the latter, to my mind, was an accidental victim. About Glushkov, something like that already happened on 24 November 2006, days after Sasha Litvinenko died--former Russian Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar was poisoned in Ireland. Then and now, the world media immediately concentrated on the new victim forgetting the previous case.

          "This is what," one journalist asked me, "the Murder Incorporated?"

          "No," I said, "a professional way to do business. Besides, no one will ever establish it was the work of the Russian agents."

          But let us see what the police say.

          JE comments:  So Glushkov was murdered just to distract the authorities from Skripal?  This is an intriguing--and most disturbing--theory.  Police say that Glushkov died from "compression to the neck."

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