Britain in panic as Trump-Putin summit looms – By Alexander Mercouris (THE DURAN)

Britain alarmed as John Bolton travels to Moscow to prepare summitAlexander Mercouris

Days after I discussed rumours of an imminent Trump-Putin summit, seeming confirmation that such a summit is indeed in the works has been provided with the Kremlin’s confirmation that President Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton is travelling to Moscow next week apparently to discuss preparations for the summit.

The Kremlin’s confirmation of John Bolton’s visit was given today by President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov

As far as we know, such a visit is going to take place. This is all we can say for now.

Further suggestions that some sort of easing of tensions between Washington and Moscow may be in the works has been provided by confirmation that a group of US Republican Senators will shortly be visiting Moscow.

It seems that a combination of the collapse in the credibility of the Russiagate collusion allegations – which I suspect no Republican member of the House or Senate any longer believes – unease in the US at Russia’s breakthrough in hypersonic weapons technology (recently discussed by Alex Christoforou and myself in this video), and the failure of the recent sanctions the US Treasury announced against Rusal, has concentrated minds in Washington, and is giving President Trump the political space he needs to push for the easing of tensions with Russia which he is known to have long favoured.

One important European capital cannot conceal its dismay.

In a recent article for Consortium News I discussed the obsessive quality of the British establishment’s paranoia about Russia, and not surprisingly in light of it an article has appeared today in The Times of London which made clear the British government’s alarm as the prospect of a Trump-Putin summit looms.

As is often the way with articles in The Times of London, this article has now been “updated” beyond recognition.  However it still contains comments like these

Mr Trump called for Russia to be readmitted to the G8 this month, wrecking Mrs May’s efforts to further isolate Mr Putin after the Salisbury poisonings. Mr Trump then linked US funding of Nato to the trade dispute with the EU, singling out Germany for special criticism.

The prospect of a meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Putin appals British officials. “It’s unclear if this meeting is after or before Nato and the UK visit,” a Whitehall official said. “Obviously after would be better for us. It adds another dynamic to an already colourful week.”….

A senior western diplomatic source said that a Trump-Putin meeting before the Nato summit would cause “dismay and alarm”, adding: “It would be a highly negative thing to do.”

Nato is due to discuss an escalation of measures to deter Russian aggression. “Everyone is perturbed by what is going on and is fearing for the future of the alliance,” a Whitehall source said.

I will here express my view that the Russiagate scandal was at least in part an attempt by some people in Britain to prevent a rapprochement between the US and Russia once it became clear that achieving such a rapprochement was a policy priority for Donald Trump.

In my article for Consortium News I discussed at length the size of the British footprint in the scandal, and the outsized role in it of various British or British connected individuals such as the ex British spy Christopher Steele who compiled the Trump Dossier, the former chief of Britain’s NSA equivalent GCHQ Robert Hannigan, the former MI6 chief Sir Richard Dearlove, and the Cambridge based US academic Stefan Halper.

I would add that there are now rumours that Professor Joseph Mifsud, the mysterious London based Maltese Professor who also had a big role in the Russiagate affair, may also have had connections to British intelligence.

As this article in Zerohedge says, all roads in Russiagate lead to London, not, be it noted, Moscow.

A summit meeting between the US and Russian Presidents inaugurated an improvement in relations between the US and Russia is exactly the opposite outcome which some people in London want.

That however looks to be what they are facing.

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UK claim of ‘humanitarian reasons’ for Syria strikes picked apart online – By RT

UK claim of ‘humanitarian reasons’ for Syria strikes picked apart online
The United Kingdom’s deployment of the “humanitarian” card to justify its airstrikes on Syria has raised more than a few eyebrows, with opposition politicians, journalists and members of the public picking it apart on Twitter.

Speaking at the United Nations Security Council on Saturday, Britain’s UN ambassador, Karen Pierce, laid out the UK’s legal justification for their airstrikes on Syria. Pierce claimed that under international law the UK is allowed to take measures in order to “alleviate overwhelming humanitarian suffering.”

The UK government also published the legal position online. It says that three conditions have to be met to justify the intervention.

First, there has to be convincing evidence of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale. Importantly, this must also be “generally accepted by the international community as a whole.”

READ MORE: ‘Mission accomplished’: Trump praises ‘perfectly executed’ strike on Syria

It also must be objectively clear that there is “no practicable alternative” to the use of force if lives are to be saved. Finally, the use of force must be “necessary and proportionate” to the proposed relief of humanitarian suffering.

The news that the British government was citing humanitarian reasons for launching missiles sparked a flood of reaction on social media, with many people saying that it had not met any of the criteria it laid out.

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon described the legal position as “thin” and said it is “not easy to see how [the] humanitarian crisis – the result of years of civil war – will be helped by air strikes.” 

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn also called the strikes legally questionable.”

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg noted that the UK is one of the few countries that tries to use humanitarian arguments as a justification for military action. She added that most international lawyers don’t accept the contention.

Others called out Theresa May’s government and its US allies for claiming to be concerned with humanitarian suffering when and where it suited them, while showing blind indifference to suffering in other areas.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also thoroughly dismissed the “humanitarian” argument, saying the US-led coalition’s actions made the humanitarian catastrophe worse, caused pain for civilians, and damaged international relations.

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Scandal-Plagued Trump Lurches to Conflict Without Investigating Alleged Gas Attack – by Elliott Gabriel (MINT PRESS)

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump’s attempt to impulsively jump back into the Syrian mess runs the risk of sparking a real shooting-war between the U.S. Armed Forces and Russia’s mission in Syria – upping the ante drastically in the former “Apprentice” host’s bid to boost the U.S. intervention in Syria.

 

WASHINGTON — World powers are reacting with increased urgency and alarm following scandal-plagued U.S. President Donald Trump’s threats of an imminent military strike against Syria following an alleged weekend chemical attack in Douma. Trump claimed that the war-torn country’s allies, including Russia and Iran, are bound to “pay a price” for the incident, which is yet to be investigated by international monitors.

The curious hysteria from Washington not only comes before any investigation has been allowed to take place, but also comes on the heels of a particularly egregious development in the never-ending scandal circus swirling around the U.S. president: an FBI raid on the office of the former reality star’s longtime lawyer.

Syrian authorities and their allies maintain that they played no role in the chemical weapons attack, which killed at least 60 people and affected hundreds in Douma, the town that lies near Damascus and is the last rebel stronghold in an eight-year civil war pitting government forces and their allies against a disparate coalition of Islamist insurgents. The insurgents are backed by Gulf Arab rivals Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which often seemed just as opposed to each other as they were to the Syrian government.

On Sunday, the Russian Foreign Ministry explicitly rejected the reports as fake news aimed at justifying new military strikes and warned of the stakes involved in the fast-developing international drama:

We recently warned of the possibility of such dangerous provocations … We have to say once again that military interference in Syria, where Russian forces have been deployed at the request of the legitimate government, under contrived and false pretexts, is absolutely unacceptable and can lead to very grave consequences.”

Watch  | Aftermath of suspected chemical attack in rebel-held Douma in Syria

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/jNIp1lZwJts?rel=0&showinfo=0

 

Send in the inspectors

China has conveyed its desire to see a “comprehensive, objective and impartial investigation” take place “that can stand the test of history” and ensure justice, according to China’s deputy permanent representative to the UN, Wu Haitao.

At a regular press briefing in Beijing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also expressed alarm at the language coming from Washington regarding “forcefully” responding to the alleged attack, which he characterized as “prejudg[ing] the results and com[ing] to conclusions randomly.”


Read more by Elliot Gabriel


Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has pledged that Russia would submit its own resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for the inspectors to visit the site to investigate the alleged attack.

Syrian state media has relayed the government’s eagerness to get to the bottom of the incident and offer any assistance needed to ensure that the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) thoroughly investigates the allegations.

Watch | Syrian govt. denies chemical attack on Douma

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/iAQ9p2fiLZs?rel=0&showinfo=0

According to the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), an official Foreign Ministry source said:

Syria is keen on cooperating with the OPCW to uncover the truth behind the allegations that some western sides have been advertising to justify their aggressive intentions.”

The U.K. delegation to the UN has signaled its approval for the proposal, adding that OPCW personnel must be allowed full freedom of access to the scene of the alleged attack.

The OPCW is preparing to send its team to Syria to determine whether banned munitions, such as a nerve agent or chlorine, were used, as has been alleged by the pro-opposition White Helmets and Douma Media Centre. Whatever the watchdog group determines, it is not within its mandate to assign blame for the incident on any specific actors on the ground.

Watch | President Trump Receives a Briefing from Senior Military Leadership

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/O71V3jTcs24?rel=0&showinfo=0

 

Will Trump stumble into war with the “Russian regime”?

With newly-appointed war-bent National Security Advisor John Bolton at his side for the first time in his official capacity, Trump used some of his toughest language Monday night yet in regard to possible military actions against Syria, phrasing the potentially world-historic decision in a characteristically meandering way:

So we’re going to make a decision tonight, or very shortly thereafter.  And you’ll be hearing the decision. But we can’t let atrocities like we all witnessed — and you can see that and it’s horrible — we can’t let that happen. In our world, we can’t let that happen, especially when we’re able to — because of the power of the United States, because of the power of our country — we’re able to stop it.”

Trump also spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, who agreed that a “firm response” must be taken in response to any chemical attacks by the Syrian government. France has suggested on multiple occasions that any use of proscribed chemical weaponry by the Assad government would be a “red line” justifying a potential military response.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has commented that “those responsible should be held to account,” but has remained noncommittal about any British use of force against Syrian government targets.

UN Security Council drama has reached a fever pitch, with U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley breaking with diplomatic protocol by once again referring to Moscow as the “Russian regime,” and claiming that its “hands are all covered in the blood of Syrian children.”

“There was no chemical weapons attack,” Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia responded, adding:

Through the relevant channels we already conveyed to the U.S. that armed forces under mendacious pretext against Syria – where, at the request of the legitimate government of a country, Russian troops have been deployed – could lead to grave repercussions.”

Watch | Vitaly Nebenzia Russia on the Situation in Syria

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/Fl_ZyDlJ8C4?rel=0&showinfo=0

Russia won’t stand idly by

Any potential strike on Syrian forces runs the risk of provoking a massive response from Syria’s allies in the Russian Aerospace Force, especially given the significant presence of Russian service personnel in the war-torn country.

Just last month, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and First Deputy Defense Minister, General Valery Gerasimov, accused the U.S. and its rebel allies of planning to stage a falsified chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians to create a pretext for war.

Without naming his sources, the official told Russian reporters that throughout besieged “Eastern Ghouta, a crowd was assembled with women, children and old people, brought from other regions, who were to represent the victims of the chemical incident,” in a bid to stage a provocation.

The general added that the alleged attack would serve as a pretext for an attack on Damascus, placing Russian personnel at risk and inevitably provoking retaliatory measures against U.S. missile-launch platforms and seaborne vessels.

Russian State Duma Defense Committee Chairman and former Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Airborne Troops Vladimir Shamanov used equally indignant language, swearing that Russia will refuse to sit idly by as it “let[s] the Americans hammer nails” into Syria.

 

Another diversion by the “Apprentice” host?

One can’t help noticing the conspicuous timing of Trump’s threats to attack Syria, which arrived the very same day that FBI agents raided the home of his long-time personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen –- a move that dominated beltway liberal news programs on MSNBC and CNN, whose pundits were absolutely brimming over with schadenfreude over the commander-in-chief’s latest misfortunes.

MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews even invoked the satirical U.S. film Wag the Dog, a 1997 film that involved Washington media spin doctors who fabricate a war in the Balkans to prevent the media from paying too much attention to a sexual scandal involving the film’s fictional president and a so-called “firefly girl.”

Watch | Wag the Dog – Original Theatrical Trailer

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/steA_PZPkc8?rel=0&showinfo=0

“How about Wag the Dog, Susan?” Matthews asked USA Today’s Susan Page, drawing her response that it was a “very serious charge to make against a president.”

Matthews hinted that perhaps it wouldn’t be so unbelievable “when you have John Bolton sitting next to him.”

Indeed, a little over a week ago Trump delivered a burn-burner of a campaign speech in Ohio, which featured a colorful rant implying that the United States’ embroilment in Syria would wind to a close:

We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now.  Very soon. Very soon, we’re coming out. We’re going to have 100 percent of the caliphate (ISIS), as they call it — sometimes referred to as “land.” We’re taking it all back quickly.  Quickly. But we’re going to be coming out of there real soon. We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong, where we want to be.”

The comments, and subsequent push by the commander-in-chief to begin pulling out of Syria, reportedly led to a severe blow-up in the White House between Trump, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Nevertheless, in this case Trump’s attempt to impulsively jump back into the Syrian mess runs the risk of sparking a real shooting-war between the U.S. Armed Forces and Russia’s mission in Syria – upping the ante drastically in the former “Apprentice” host’s bid to boost the U.S. intervention in Syria.

As is often the case, one can’t ascertain the possibilities based on the former reality star’s ever-shifting moods, priorities and statements. For now, we only have his ominous warning to go by:

Everybody is going to pay a price … Everybody will.”

Top Photo | President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Oval Office of the White House, April 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Elliott Gabriel is a former staff writer for teleSUR English and a MintPress News contributor based in Quito, Ecuador. He has taken extensive part in advocacy and organizing in the pro-labor, migrant justice and police accountability movements of Southern California and the state’s Central Coast.

Republish our stories! MintPress News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

The lies of the imperialist powers over the Skripal affair are unravelling-Robert Stevens (World Socialist Web Site) (SOTT)

Skripal meme

© imgflip.com

On September 1, 1939, German radio announced the outbreak of the Second World War by reporting Adolf Hitler’s speech to the Reichstag, in which the dictator said, “This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory. We have been returning the fire since 5:45 A.M. Henceforth, bomb will be met with bomb.”

Under the direction of Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels, the invasion of Poland was portrayed as an act of self-defence.

A similar resort to lying and demonization has been carried out by the British, American and several European governments around the March 4 poisoning in Salisbury, England of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

It is now beyond any reasonable doubt that the claims of the Conservative government of Theresa May charging Russia with responsibility for the poisoning of the Skripals are fabrications.

On Tuesday, Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the UK’s chemical weapons facility, the Porton Down Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, told Sky News that scientists had “not verified the precise source” of the material used in the attack in Salisbury on March 4. Aitkenhead’s statement came on the eve of the convening at Moscow’s request of the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at The Hague, which would have exposed the UK government’s case. But this resort to damage control only underscores the monstrous hoax perpetrated by the British and American governments and their European allies.

May told parliament on March 12 that Porton Down was “absolutely categorical” that the “nerve agent” used on the Skripals had come from Russia. “Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at Porton Down,” she said, “the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible” for an “attempted murder” on British soil.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle on March 20 that “the people from Porton Down” were “absolutely categorical” that the source of the nerve agent used against the Skripals was Russia. “I asked the guy myself,” he said, “and he said ‘there’s no doubt.'”

So politically devastating is the exposure of Britain’s lies that yesterday the Foreign Office deleted a text it sent out on March 22 declaring that the “analysis by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down made clear that this was a military-grade novichok nerve agent produced in Russia.”

Skripal UK foreign office tweet

Based on this lie, and without asking for any proof other than the word of May and Johnson, the United States, 14 European Union member states, Ukraine, Canada, Australia and three other allies between them expelled more than 100 Russian diplomatic personnel. The NATO military alliance followed suit, expelling seven Russian staff to send “a clear and very strong message that there was a cost to Russia’s reckless actions.”

Every one of these states knew from the outset that the allegations against Russia were a fraud. Even though Britain’s supposed case against Russia has fallen apart, this has had no impact on the backing it has received from its imperialist allies.

The emergency session of the OPCW called at Russia’s request received no answers to the serious questions Moscow insisted Britain had to address. Instead, the UK’s representative said Russia could not take part in a joint investigation with Britain into the Skripal affair, as it was “a likely perpetrator.” This was given unqualified backing by an EU spokesperson, who demanded that Russia respond to the UK’s “legitimate questions” about its alleged continued production of novichoks.

No less implicated in this criminal affair is the corporate media, especially the New York Times, which has spent the past month disseminating the raw propaganda issued by London and Washington and baying for Moscow’s punishment.

At no point did the Times raise a single question about the reliability of the claims of the May government. And now its response to the refutation of the lies is to ignore and bury Aitkenhead’s statement.

The role of the corporate media in the Skripal provocation confirms the political purpose of the hysterical campaign it has been leading against “fake news,” and its insistence that social media be regulated, restricted and monitored.

After the Skripal affair, is any more proof required that nothing the officially sanctioned media publishes or broadcasts can be taken at face value?

It denounces any questioning of the imperialist narrative as “fake news,” while it carries out its function of publishing false and lying reports.

As Leon Trotsky wrote 80 years ago, the lie is the ideological cement of social and political reaction. The World Socialist Web Site is an indispensable and powerful tool of the working class in combating the lies of the imperialist powers and their state-controlled propaganda machines.

In January, the World Socialist Web Site issued an open letter to socialist, anti-war, left-wing and progressive websites, organizations and activists calling for the formation of an international coalition to fight Internet censorship. Recent events attest to the importance of this critical initiative.

Comment: Don’t miss: British Government’s Chemical Attack Narrative Falls Apart – Boris Johnson Lied About Russia

The Skripal case and UK’s flagrant misuse of ‘intelligence’ – By Alexander Mercouris The Duran(Sott)

MI6 headquarters  Britian spies

© Laurie Nevay/Wikipedia
The SIS Building or MI6 Building at Vauxhall Cross houses the headquarters of the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, MI6), the United Kingdom’s foreign intelligence agency.

As the Novichok ‘evidence’ collapses, the criminal investigation into the Skripal attack has become corrupted

The events of the last few days in the Skripal case provide an object lesson of why in criminal investigations the rules of due process should always be adhered to. The reason the British now find themselves in difficulties is because they have not adhered to them.

This despite the fact that – as they all too often like to remind us – it was the British themselves who largely created them.

The single biggest unexplained mystery about the Skripal case is why it attracted so much attention so quickly.

Within hours of Sergey and Yulia Skripal being found passed out on a bench the British media were feverishly speculating that they had been poisoned by Russia.

This despite the fact that no information at that point existed which warranted such speculation, and despite pleas for the investigation to be allowed to take its course from the police and from the government minister responsible for the police, Home Secretary Amber Rudd (who has ever since been conspicuously silent about the whole affair).

Within three days of Sergey and Yulia Skripal being found on passed out on a bench – and before any information linking the incident to Russia had become publicly available – the British government’s COBRA committee was meeting – a fact which caused me incredulity – during which a highly revealing article in The Times of London has now revealed it was already agreed that Russia was “almost certainly” responsible.

A Whitehall source added: “We knew pretty much by the time of the first Cobra [the emergency co-ordination briefing that took place the same week] that it was overwhelmingly likely to come from Russia.”

(bold italics added)

“It” of course refers to the chemical agent which poisoned Sergey and Yulia Skripal, with the clear implication that by the date of the first COBRA meeting on 7th March 2018 – three days after Sergey and Yulia Skripal were found in the bench – “it” had already been identified as a Novichok “of a type developed by Russia”.

If what this article says is true – and despite the fact that the article is full tendentious reporting (of which more below) on this one point I am inclined to believe what it says – then that must mean either (1) that Porton Down is highly familiar with the properties of Novichok agents if it can identify the agent used so quickly; or (2) the British authorities already had “other” information before Porton Down completed its analysis which caused them to think that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned with a chemical agent “of a type developed by Russia”.

If it was the first then note that Porton Down took no more than three days to identify the poison as a Novichok despite the fact (1) that Novichok agents are not in general use and are supposed to be very rare and there is no known instance of their having been used before (it seems that contrary to previous reports the Kivelidi murder in 1995 in Russia did not involve use of a Novichok); and (2) that confirming Porton Down’s analysis that the poison is a Novichok is taking the OPCW’s experts two weeks.

If it was the second, and the COBRA committee came to its view on 7th March 2018 that Russia was ‘almost certainly responsible’ before Porton Down had identified the poison, then the last few weeks have been an exercise in smoke-and-mirrors, with the British authorities pretending that the reason for their belief in Russian responsibility was that the poison used was a Novichok, whereas in reality they came to that belief for some entirely different reason.

If so then that might partially why Porton Down and the French scientists were able to identify the chemical agent so quickly.

They were able to identify the poison as a Novichok by the weekend prior to Theresa May’s statement to the House of Commons on Monday 12th March 2018 because they were told in advance what to look for.

I do not know which of these alternatives is true. However, for what it’s worth, I believe it is the second because it is the one which makes most sense in light of the known facts.

That this is the likeliest explanation of what happened finds support from The Times of London article which I cited earlier. It contains this highly revealing claim

Security services believe that they have pinpointed the location of the covert Russian laboratory that manufactured the weapons-grade nerve agent used in Salisbury, The Times has learnt.

Ministers and security officials were able to identify the source using scientific analysis and intelligence in the days after the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal a month ago, according to security sources.

Britain knew about the existence of the facility where the novichok poison was made before the attack on March 4, it is understood……

Security sources do not claim 100 per cent certainty but the source has insisted that they have a high degree of confidence in the location. They also believe that the Russians conducted tests to see whether novichok could be used for assassinations.

The disclosure is the latest part of Britain’s intelligence case against Russia, which has been undermined this week by a series of blunders.

(bold italics added)

In other words the entire British case against Russia derives not from identification of the poison as a Novichok but from information about the supposed existence of a ‘secret laboratory’ making Novichok in Russia which British intelligence had obtained – or thinks it had obtained – before the attack took place.

That the British case against Russia is intelligence based and is not based on the fact that the poison used was (allegedly) a Novichok is further shown by one case of manipulation of language and one case of crude editing in some of the things which have been said.

The example of manipulation of language is the constant British harping on the fact that the Novichok allegedly used in the attack is “military grade”.

I am not a chemist or a chemical weapons expert but I cannot see how it is possibly to say such a thing given that no military – not even the Russian military – has apparently ever stockpiled Novichok agents for use as a military weapon. How can one say therefore that any particular sample of Novichok is “military grade” if no military has ever stockpiled or used it?

As for the example of editing, it is one which I admit I previously overlooked but which was noticed by the invaluable Craig Murray, whose commentary on the Skripal case has been nothing short of outstanding.

The editing is of what was said by Porton Down chief executive Gary Aitkenhead. Since it was Craig Murray who noticed it rather than discuss it myself I will link and quote to what Craig Murray has to say about it

It is in this final statement that, in a desperate last minute attempt to implicate Russia, Aitkenhead states that making this nerve agent required

“extremely sophisticated methods to create, something probably only within the capabilities of a state actor.”

Very strangely, Sky News only give the briefest clip of the interview on this article on their website reporting it. And the report is highly tendentious: for example it states

However, he confirmed the substance required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor”.

Deleting the “probably” is a piece of utterly tendentious journalism by Sky’s Paul Kelso.

I did not notice that the key word “probably” had been deleted from what Aitkenhead had said, and as a result my previous article wrongly quoted his words, saying them not as he had said them but as they had been wrongly edited.

It turns out that even what Aitkenhead actually said – that the Novichok agent would have required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something probably only within the capabilities of a state actor” is almost certainly wrong.

Here is what Craig Murray has to say about that

Motorola sales agent Gary Aitkenhead – inexplicably since January, Chief Executive of Porton Down chemical weapons establishment – said in his Sky interview that “probably” only a state actor could create the nerve agent. That is to admit the possibility that a non state actor could. David Collum, Professor of Organo-Chemistry at Cornell University, infinitely more qualified than a Motorola salesman, has stated that his senior students could do it. Professor Collum tweeted me this morning.

novichok tweet

© Dave Collum/Twitter

The key point in his tweet is, of course “if asked”. The state and corporate media has not asked Prof. Collum nor any of the Professors of Organic Chemistry in the UK. There simply is no basic investigative journalism happening around this case.

That the entire British case against Russia depends on intelligence is further shown by a further strange development in the case today.

This is that the British authorities are now apparently claiming that the fact that the poison which was used to poison Sergey and Yulia Skripal was supposedly found on Sergey Skripal’s door knob is the ‘smoking gun’ which points to Russia.

Whether that is so or not – and I share Craig Murray’s deep skepticism about this – the alleged presence of the poison on the door knob cannot be the reason why on 7th March 2018 the British government’s COBRA committee had already come to the conclusion that the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal “was almost certainly” the work of Russia.

That is because the theory that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned when they came into contact with the poison on the door knob only appeared several weeks after 7th March 2018.

All the evidence points to fact that the ‘intelligence’ the British government used to come to the conclusion – reached within hours of Sergey and Yulia Skripal being found passed out on a bench – that the attack on them had been carried out by Russia must have come from a human source.

If the British authorities really do possess what they believe to be a Russian assassin’s manual (see Craig Murray again) then that all but confirms it. How else would such a manual have come into their hands?

If that human source really was able to identify the particular poison used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal in advance, then that suggests a very well informed source indeed.

That might be because the source does have genuine access to secret information about a top secret Russian assassination programme, in which case the Russian authorities will by now almost certainly know who that source is.

However given the complete absence of any other evidence of a top secret Russian assassination programme I must say I doubt this (as I have discussed elsewhere, the Litvinenko case does not provide such evidence).

The alternative – which of course is what many people believe – is that this whole affair is a provocation, staged by someone who then tipped the British off that Novichok – a poison of “a type developed by Russia” but which can in fact easily be made elsewhere (see above) – had been used, whilst misleading the British by giving them a trail of false leads which appeared to point towards Russia.

The claim that the fact that traces of the poison were found on the door knob is the ‘smoking gun’ which points to Russia to my mind rather supports this second theory.

If this claim was made before the poison was found on the door knob it suggests that the source knew in advance that it was there, which would tend to implicate the source in the attack.

If the source provided the information about the alleged ‘assassin’s manual’ after reports appeared in the British media about the poison being found on the door knob – which by the way is what I suspect – then that strongly suggests that the source is adapting its information to the changing news, which suggests manipulation of the intelligence in order to implicate Russia.

Whatever the case the fact that Novichok was probably used to poison Sergey and Yulia Skripal (we will only know with any measure of certainty when the OPCW reports its tests) is not proof that Russia was involved.

The British have got themselves into a total mess by pretending that it is.

They would have avoided getting into this mess – and avoided being manipulated by whoever is giving them ‘secret’ information, if that is what is happening – if they had instead done what their law and traditions dictate they should have done, which is allowed the criminal investigation to take its course.

It bears repeating that at this stage no suspect has been identified in the case and even the theory that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by touching Sergey Skripal’s door knob is pure conjecture.

Once again – as in the Litvinenko case and the Russiagate scandal – the course of a criminal investigation has been corrupted by the misuse of ‘intelligence’.

See Also:

Skripal case: belief in Russia’s guilt looks to be based not on evidence but on a guess – By Alexander Mercouris ( The Duran )

British authorities admit have no proof poison made in Russia; entire case against Russia based on a classified assessment

On the eve of the meeting of the OPCW’s executive council – convened by Russia and scheduled for tomorrow – we have had a highly revealing succession of statements about the Skripal case from the British authorities.

The one which is attracting the most attention is the admission by Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, that whilst British scientists are able to confirm that the poison used in the attack and Sergey and Yulia Skripal was a ‘military grade’ Novichok type substance (the Russian authorities say the British have told them it is A-234), they cannot confirm that it was produced in Russia.

We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify that it was military-grade nerve agent.

We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to Government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to…..

It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is, we identified that it is from this particular family and that it is a military grade, but it is not our job to say where it was manufactured.

(bold italics added)

Gary Aitkenhead did however go on to say that the poison used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal would have required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor”.

Gary Aitkenhead refused to say whether or not Porton Down had ever produced any of the poison used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.  However he categorically denied that the poison could have come from Porton Down

There is no way anything like that could have come from us or left the four walls of our facility

Before proceeding further, I should say that I expect that some people are going to seize on Gary Aitkenhead’s denial that the poison could have escaped from Porton Down as an admission that there are stocks of the poison in Porton Down.

That would be a logical fallacy.  A denial of one thing – that the poison came from Porton Down – should never be treated as an admission of something else – in this case that Porton Down possesses stocks of the poison.

I say this as someone who thinks it ‘highly likely’ (to borrow a phrase) that Porton Down does possess stocks of the poison.

In any event, we now have clarity on one important point.  The scientific evidence does not prove that the poison which was used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal came from Russia.

I expect that this is also the opinion of the French experts the British authorities consulted – if it were not I would expect Gary Aitkenhead to have said so – and of the OPCW’s experts.

The current position in the case can therefore be summed up as follows

(1) the British scientific evidence is that Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned by a Novichok type chemical agent (probably A-234) but does not extend to this agent having been made in Russia;

(2) the British police have not yet named a suspect in the case;

(3) there are various theories about how Sergey and Yulia Skripal were poisoned.  Sputnik has summed some of them.  It appears that the latest theory – that the poison was smeared on the door of Sergey Skripal’s house – is running into problems, and may be wrong.

(4) though Gary Aitkenhead says that the British have no knowledge of any antidote in a case of poisoning by the chemical used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal, the British authorities have said that Yulia Skripal is now recovering, which suggests either that her contact with the poison was very slight, or that the potency of the poison has been greatly exaggerated.

Theresa May on 14th March 2018 said that Russia was ‘culpable’ of the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.  Previously, on 12th March 2018 she said that it was ‘highly likely’ that Russia was responsible for the attack.  Since the EU Council meeting of 22nd March 2018 the British government together with the EU have reverted to Theresa May’s original 12th March 2018 position that it was ‘highly likely’ that Russia was responsible for the attack.

Gary Aitkenhead’s comments taken by themselves in my opinion make it impossible even to say that Russia was ‘highly likely’ to have carried out the attack.

His claim that only a state possesses the resources to have made the poison is not evidence against Russia given that various other states are known to have the means to produce the poison and may actually have done so.

Besides I understand that this claim is disputed by other scientists, who however – unlike Gary Aitkenhead – have not been involved in identifying the poison.

We are left therefore with our old friends, the British government and the British intelligence agencies who have secretly ‘assessed’ on the basis of ‘other’ evidence which since it is classified they will never show us that Russia made and possesses the poison which was used in the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal.

That we are dealing not with hard fact of the sort that can be produced in court to prove a case, but with a classified ‘assessment’ the basis of which will always be secret, is confirmed by the British Foreign Office, whose spokesman is reported to have said the following

We have been clear from the very beginning that our world leading experts at Porton Down identified the substance used in Salisbury as a Novichok, a military grade nerve agent.

This is only one part of the intelligence picture.

As the Prime Minister has set out in a number of statements to the Commons since 12 March, this includes our knowledge that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents – probably for assassination – and as part of this programme has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks.

Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views former intelligence officers as targets.

It is our assessment that Russia was responsible for this brazen and reckless act and, as the international community agrees, there is no other plausible explanation

(bold italics added)

That this is so has also been confirmed by Porton Down

It is not, and has never been, our responsibility to confirm the source of the agent.

This chemical identity of the nerve agent is one of four factors [NB: what were the other three – AM] used by the Government to attribute the use of chemical weapons in Salisbury to Russia.

The Government’s assessment has been clear from the start. Our chemical analysis is a key part of the Government’s assessment, and this has not changed

(bold italics added)

The word ‘assessment’ may sound impressive, but it is essentially no more than a pretentious word for a surmise or at best an analysis.  As such – like any other surmise or analysis – it can be wrong.

The famous 6th January 2017 ODNI Assessment – one of the foundation documents of the Russiagate scandal – contains a lengthy discussion of what an ‘assessment’ is.  It contains these now famous words

Estimative language consists of two elements: judgments about the likelihood of developments or events occurring and levels of confidence in the sources and analytic reasoning supporting the judgments.  Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact.  Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation, and precedents. 

(bold italics added)

If the British government thinks it knows that Russia carried out the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal – which is all that an ‘assessment’ implies – that is one thing.

However a criminal investigation by the British police into the attack is supposed to be underway.

The British government has preempted that investigation by making public claims of Russian state responsibility on the basis of an ‘assessment’ the grounds for which can never be shown to a defendant, and which therefore cannot be produced in court.

I cannot see how that can do anything else other than undermine the whole investigation process, and prejudice the conduct of any future trial.

Perhaps that is a matter of indifference to most people.  It is not to me.

As for the famous formula that it is ‘highly likely’ that Russia is responsible for the attack on Sergey and Yulia Skripal, I do not see how that is sustainable any longer.

The most that can be said is that the British government thinks that Russia is responsible, about which however it may be wrong.

Perhaps all those countries that expelled Russia’s diplomats on the strength of a British guess should now be inviting them back?

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Professor John Erickson: ‘Edinburgh Conversations’ with Russians – By Tim Hayward / Tim Hayward WordPress (SOTT)

Professor John Erickson

© Unknown

As Edinburgh University today hosts the annual Erickson Lecture, it is a good moment to reflect on the remarkable contribution of Professor John Erickson (1929-2002) to easing tensions between Russia and the West during the original Cold War.[1]

Erickson was the initiator of a nine-year series of meetings through the 1980s that came to be known as the Edinburgh Conversations. With the wholehearted support of the University’s principal, Erickson created a ‘back channel’, away from politicking and press, which allowed Western and Soviet admirals and generals to engage face-to-face for open and mutually respectful dialogue in a neutral setting. According to parliamentarian Tam Dalyell, this initiative ‘singlehandedly kept open contact with the Soviet high command and the Soviet military when times were at their most edgy.’ Erickson himself ensured that the meetings – typically lasting about three days – were conducted strictly under ‘academic rules’. (In Erickson’s view, ‘good scholarship is good morality.’) This allowed them to proceed in good spirit, despite the tensions of the time. The series of Conversations continued for nine years, with the venue for annual meetings alternating between Edinburgh and Moscow.

Erickson’s first encounter with the Russian army had been in Yugoslavia. He was serving there after the war had officially ended, and before his move into Intelligence, as a sergeant with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. One day the patrol he was commanding met a column of Soviet tanks, at which point the Russian commander stopped and challenged him. That challenge, so the story goes, was to a chess match, over tea. The anecdote has survived, I think, because it captures the enduring spirit of Erickson’s engagement with the Russians, including at the highest levels.

As one of very few academics to have the trust of both Americans and Soviets, he was able to mediate and contribute authoritatively, at the top table of military commanders. He was the West’s leading authority on the Soviet military during and after the Second World War, as well as an expert on contemporary nuclear warfare defence grand strategy. He was an open consultant to NATO, the British Defence Ministry and the United Nations while his expertise on Soviet military history was admired by the Soviet leaders too. His two-volume work on Stalin’s War with Germany was described by the historian Norman Stone as being ‘as close to being the definitive work on Soviet strategy, and military history, as it is possible to imagine.’ It ‘was acclaimed not just in the West but also by Soviet generals (several of whom asked Erickson to autograph their copies)’. Tam Dalyell considered Erickson’s ‘supreme achievement was to make the Russians feel that their war effort and sacrifice was appreciated in the West.’ He had ‘shown to the full the achievement and heroism of the men and women who endured the fighting and who suffered on a scale almost inconceivable in the West.’

The Edinburgh Conversations ranged over complex discussions on arms control, related security issues and the environment. They afforded each side a valuable insight into each other’s views, helped to thaw attitudes and influence official and academic thinking on both sides of the Cold War divide. The meetings continued from 1981 to 1989, at which point the two sides decided that relations between them had become good enough for state-to-state meetings to takeover from the academic ones.

In recognition of Erickson’s achievement, Sir Michael Eliot Howard declared that ‘Nobody deserves more credit for the ultimate dissolution of the misunderstandings that brought the Cold War to an end and enabled the peoples of Russia and their western neighbours to live in peace.’

It was above all about the peoples, and our prospects of living in peace, that Erickson ultimately most cared. Even as he attended to the details of both grand strategy and logistical specifics, he always retained clear awareness of the human dimension of decisions and their impacts. His approach to military history also had a strongly social dimension. His major work he described as ‘an attempt to probe how the Soviet system functioned under conditions of maximum stress,’ and he regarded it as ‘a form of social history.’ He reflected more generally, too, on the nature of the covenant between service people and the civil population of a country, finding significance in the extent of a citizenry’s endorsement of military necessities.

I never really knew him personally. By the time I joined the Politics Department at Edinburgh he had already retired, and he would just come into his office from time to time while it still housed a part of his legendary library. (So substantial were his holdings, it turned out, that their weight had done structural damage to the building!) Those who knew him emphasised his strength of character and his humanity. The person who knew him best of all said that he had “tried desperately to keep peace between both sides. That was his mission in life.”

Ljubica Petrovic met Erickson at Oxford. She was from Yugoslavia, a Serb, who, before being liberated by Russians, had witnessed the activities of the Croat extreme-right Ustashe. Her father, Dr Branko Petrovic, had fought in the Yugoslav Resistance, being captured and executed by the Germans in 1943. John and Ljubica married.

John Erickson’s later years were marked by the bitter experience of witnessing the horror of NATO bombing Ljubica’s country and relatives in the name of ‘humanity’. In response, he did what he could – alongside the likes of Tam Dalyell, Tony Benn, John Pilger and Jeremy Corbyn – to bring to public attention the truth of what was happening in the Balkans, calling for more critical reporting of NATO’s bombing and more coverage of the anti-war case in the media.

Comment: Readers might want to further read and view The Weight of Chains: US/NATO Destruction of Yugoslavia (Documentary).

The break up of Yugoslavia happened at a time before social media made possible even the modest degree of critical awareness now being achieved about media manipulations in relation to NATO activities. Even now, that briefly flourishing opportunity for critical understanding appears to be at risk of closing again as increasing restrictions are imposed on what can be heard in both mainstream media and social media. Meanwhile, a relentless propaganda message about ‘evil Russians’ is attaining acquiescence amongst a significant part of Western populations, even including some academics. So as belligerence is again being stoked between the West and Russia, we should really be looking to create the opportunities we can to resist this slide towards war.

My closing thought is that although Erickson’s extraordinary combination of talents was of course unique, as was the historic opportunity into which he transformed the momentous challenge of his day, we can all learn something from the principles he applied in promoting real mutual understanding between Russia and the West. If there is one thing we can emulate it is his determination to participate in seeking ways to achieve peace. We can even try to seek out ways that others might not have thought of. A crucial requirement is not to be fooled by those who have an interest in promoting war. Among the key factors in Erickson’s success at bringing together the great Cold War enemies was, I believe, his steadfast refusal to take nonsense from anyone. That was why he was trusted on both sides. Nor would he engage in any kind of subterfuge – notwithstanding the enticements that undoubtedly came his way. If the rest of us are not in a position get the top brass around a table as Erickson could, we can still engage in respectful and honest conversations with counterparts elsewhere in the world. We can build shared understandings, across contrived divides, of the simple truth that it is never we, the ordinary people, who seek war.

Notes

[1] What follows is excerpted from memories of friends and colleagues to be found in the following sources:

C.Raab et al, Fifty Years and More: The Department of Politics at the University of Edinburgh, University of Edinburgh 2012.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2002/feb/12/guardianobituaries.humanities

https://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/19/world/john-erickson-72-dies-briton-chronicled-the-red-army.html
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1384537/Professor-John-Erickson.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2002/02/17/john-erickson-dies/6f2b5760-c163-4043-8c9f-17a8dfc039ce/?utm_term=.7bee4117946a

John Erickson: life and work (University of Edinburgh)

https://web.archive.org/web/20080611092508/http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/professor-john-erickson-729741.html

Tam Dalyell, The Importance of Being Awkward, Edinburgh: Berlinn Ltd, 2012

Malcolm Mackintosh, ‘John Erickson, 1929-2002’, in P.J.Marshall (ed) Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol.124 (2005)

https://www.reddit.com/r/europe/comments/4vbc2j/kremlin_sows_discord_with_new_weapon_at_heart_of/

Author Says White Helmets, Avaaz Sing From Same Song Sheet, Reveals Orchestrator – By SPUTNIK

An activist with a face painted with the British Union Flag (L) and the US flag (R) poses in front of a Stop Trump battle bus in London on September 21, 2016 in a campaign run by campaign group Avaaz to mobilise US expatriots in the UK to register to vote in the US presidential election. Voters are set to go to the polls to elect the 45th president of the US on November 8, 2016.

© AFP 2018/ Daniel Leal-Olivas
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Avaaz, a US-based cyber activist organization has been calling for the boycott of the soon-to-be 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, unless Russia stops its anti-terrorist operations in Syria. David Icke, writer and public speaker, has given his take on this and much more in an interview to with Sputnik.

David Icke: There are two things that go on in terms of a war – you have a physical war, but then you have to justify the physical war, and that’s by the war on perception. Organizations like Avaaz and of course the White Helmets actually sing from the same song sheet, are pushing out the propaganda particularly to the young in Avaaz’s case to tens of millions of members now to sow regime change after regime change.

Remember, it was Avaaz that was pushing for no-fly zone in Libya, which has turned Libya, ultimately, into a catastrophe. Then it was pushing for the no-fly zone in Syria – we see the same. So, this list of regime changes has been very clearly sorted at every step by this organization. And we should therefore have massive questions about it.

If you look at the guy who runs it, Ricken Patel, he’s been an adviser to the UN, to the Rockefeller Foundation, to the Gates Foundation and to the International Crisis Group which has Soros and other globalists as trustees.And of course, Avaaz was created by moveon.org and organization called Res Publica, both of which are George Soros-funded and Soros is now infamous for using his Open Society Foundation work to trigger “revolutions” to remove the very people and regimes that were on their list in September 2000.

If you want a conflict with Russia, which has been a plan all along, then of course, if that’s the outcome, you have to demonize Russia to prepare the global public to accept your outcome. This is why NATO forces are constantly building up on Russia’s borders. Vladimir Putin must be an absolute genius, because his power was responsible for everything.

Look at the claims that Russia actually manipulated and caused Trump actually to win at the American election, you look at what’s happened in Salisbury with the nerve agent attack, you look at what’s happening in Syria – these are just excuses after excuses. I mean Russia apparently manipulated the Brexit vote – I mean what else?

“I’ve burnt the toast – it’s the Russians!”, “I’ve burnt the flat – it’s the Russians!” It’s become that ludicrous because what we are looking at is a global propaganda campaign to demonize Russia to prepare the global public to accept the outcome they are going towards and wish to happen. 

Sputnik: If this information continues to spread as fake news – you’ve stated that fake news reaches users faster than real news – is more likely to be shared. If that is the case, we are in for a very, very tough time, aren’t we David?David Icke: Of course fake news has many, many faces. One face is mainstream media which has been absolutely founded, and even more so than ever before now, on faking information and misleading the public as to what is happening and particularly the context of what is happening. And then you have the alleged fake news which is what Facebook, and Google and all are using as an excuse to sensor alternative narratives, and that is invariably not fake news but simply looking at a situation from an angle that the global establishment doesn’t want people to see the world in that fashion.

They only want to see them, to see the way that they wish them to view the world. If you are after controlling perception, which is what this is all about, then where do people get perceptions from? From information received. It could be a personal experience; it could be the 10 o’clock news. For most people, that information comes from the equivalent of the 10 o’clock news – from mainstream media.

READ MORE: Labour Leader Under Fire From Party MPs for Stance on Skripal Poisoning

Now, if you are going to control perception, you have to control the information received, that’s going to lead to that perception. The last thing you want is people coming from another angle and saying “Hold on, this is why we are having attacks on Russia today, in Britain and cause them to be banned and deleted.”

That’s why you’ve had that demonization of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, the opposition Labour party leader – for having the absolute audacity to ask for evidence to support the claim that Russia, the Russian government was involved in that attack. We are now living in a post-fact, post-evidence society, and that is because you control the information people receive, you invariably control the perceptions they come to. 

Sputnik: What’s your take on the FIFA World Cup that’s scheduled to take place in Russia? Some say the measure in terms of cancelling the World Cup will damage world’s sport forever. What do you think?

David Icke: I think, calls to stop the World Cup are an absolute joke, but you see, it’s part of this demonization. Who else is calling for the World Cup to be banned in Russia? Avaaz!

These are different strands in the same web that want to give the impression that they are operating in isolation. They are not. They are pushing an agenda which is coordinated.You know, what’s very encouraging in Britain, particularly from my experience is that those that dominate the microphones with their hysteria and their nonsense and their lack of evidence, and their lack of sanity – they are speaking one language, but large numbers of the British people are speaking another language. If you are so desperate to demonize Russia for instance, you can overcook the pot. And if you overcook the pot – and people are increasingly not buying it – the more their hysteria is becoming counterproductive.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

Skripals poisoning is terrorist attack on Russian citizens – Moscow – By RT

Skripals poisoning is terrorist attack on Russian citizens – Moscow
The attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter is an act of terrorism against Russian citizens, the Russian Foreign Ministry says, noting that the UK does not share any evidence with Moscow while demanding explanations.

“The British authorities don’t share any data they received following the probe [on the Skripal case] and don’t answer any questions concerning Yulia Skripal,” Director of Department for Nonproliferation & Arms Control Vladimir Ermakov said at a meeting with representatives from foreign embassies in Russia. He said that Russia insists on being given “all evidence regarding a terrorist attack against Russian citizens at the territory of Great Britain.” Yulia Skripal, 33, who was poisoned along with her father Sergei Skripal in Salisbury earlier in March, is a Russian citizen.

According to an official from the British Embassy who was present at the briefing, London offered “a chance for a bilateral discussion” to Moscow since the start.
London sees the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter as “an attempted assassination attempt,” she said, adding that “the UK concluded that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attempted murder of these two people.”
“Then why don’t we carry out a joint investigation, ensuring the transparence of all the data, rather than talk about some sort of Novichok toxic agent,” Ermakov noted, responding to the British official.
Moscow is ready for a joint investigation on the case with London and with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), according to the diplomat.
Moscow has repeatedly stated that it is ready to cooperate with the UK to investigate the incident which left the former Russian double agent and his daughter in critical condition. However, London seemed to ignore the calls.
The ministry’s top official called all accusations towards Russia “groundless” and “hysterical.” Ermakov said Russia has nothing to do with the poisoning of 66-year-old Skripal, noting that such a “gamble” is not in Moscow’s interests.
They emphasized that certain chemical substances which they call ‘Novichok’ were used in the poisoning [of the former Russian double agent]. I can say that none of these versions which we’ve heard stands up to any criticism,” he added.
The case has seen many “inconsistencies,” and the British side seems to be “confusing evidence,” according to Ermakov.

“Logic suggests that there are only two possible things. Either the British authorities are not able to provide protection from such a, let’s say, terrorist attack on their soil, or they – whether directly or indirectly, I am not accusing anyone – have orchestrated an attack on a Russian citizen,” he added.
He said that the UK has not provided any evidence that the substance which was used to poison Skripal and his daughter was produced in Russia.
Russia does not accuse anyone of anything when it comes to the Skripal case, Ermakov said at the briefing.
“We are closely following the developments of the Skripal case… I am sure that the authors and the participants of this provocation will soon be punished… I would like to stress that Russia does not accuse anyone of anything.”
Representatives of Paris and Washington said in their statements that they stand by the UK’s version of events in Skripal case. Ermakov called on them to wait for the results of the investigation, noting that “France has no data of its own.”
The former Russian intelligence officer was a part of a “spy swap” between the US and Russia back in 2010. He had worked as a double agent for the UK intelligence agency MI6 and was jailed in Russia in 2006 for spying for Britain. Russia released four spies in exchange for 10 Russian agents back in 2010.

 
 

Commentaries in Guardian and Financial Times say that Russia can be declared guilty without being given chance to defend itself – By Alexander Mercouris (THE DURAN)

Now British media admits it in Skripal case: due process ‘does not apply’ to Russia

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the British authorities and for the British media to deny that ‘due process‘ – ie. the well-established system of rules for conducting fair and impartial trials and investigations in order to determine questions of guilt or innocence – are not being followed by the British authorities in the Skripal case.

Here are some of the violations of due process the British authorities which in my opinion the British authorities are committing:

(1) The British government is interfering in the conduct of a criminal investigation, with Prime Minister Theresa May and especially Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pointing fingers at who they say is the guilty party (Russia) whilst the criminal investigation is still underway;

(2) The British government has said that unless Russia proves itself innocent within a specific time the British government will conclude that it is guilty.  As I have explained previously this reverses the burden of proof: in a criminal case it is the prosecution which is supposed to prove the defendant’s guilt, not the defendant who must prove his innocence;

(3) The British government refuses to share with Russia – the party it says is guilty – the ‘evidence’ upon which it says it has concluded that Russia is guilty, the evidence in this case being a sample of the chemical with which it says Sergey and Yulia Skripal was poisoned.  This violates the fundamental principle that the defendant must be provided with all the evidence against him so that he can properly prepare his defence;

(4) The British government is not following the procedure set out in Article IX (2) of the Chemical Weapons Convention to which both Britain and Russia are parties.  This reads as follows

States Parties should, whenever possible, first make every effort to clarify and resolve, through exchange of information and consultations among themselves, any matter which may cause doubt about compliance with this Convention, or which gives rise to concerns about a related matter which may be considered ambiguous. A State Party which receives a request from another State Party for clarification of any matter which the requesting State Party believes causes such a doubt or concern shall provide the requesting State Party as soon as possible, but in any case not later than ten days after the request, with information sufficient to answer the doubt or concern raised along with an explanation of how the information provided resolves the matter.

This says clearly that in a case like the Skripal case the British authorities should have sent a request for information to the Russian authorities, who would then have had up to ten days in which to respond.

Instead the British demanded a Russian reply within 36 hours, and said they would assume Russian guilt unless one was provided which they were satisfied with.

There has been an attempt to argue that the British disregard of the procedure set out in Article IX (2) does not breach the Chemical Weapons Convention, and I will set it out the British position as it appears in an article in The Conversation

The process set out in Article IX(2) cannot be the exclusive remedy in all cases where doubts arise surrounding compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. For example, it would be absurd to suggest that a state which has suffered an armed attack involving chemical weapons may not defend itself against that attack, but instead must issue a request for information to the attacking state and then patiently await its response within ten days.

In fact, on a closer reading, it’s clear that the obligation set out in Article IX(2) is not of an absolute character. It requires state parties to “make every effort” to clarify and resolve doubts. This duty is framed in the language of “should”, rather than “shall”, and is engaged only “whenever possible”. The terms of the clause therefore enable a state to adopt alternative measures should the circumstances so warrant.

After the Salisbury incident, one of the UK’s responses was to call a meeting of the UN Security Council. While Russia vehemently opposed this move as being contrary to the Chemical Weapons Convention, none of the other members of the Security Council, all of which are also signatories of that treaty, shared this view.

It is also important to be clear about the scope of Article IX(2). The provision deals with the clarification of doubts surrounding compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, the British government had already concluded that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the incident. Based on the identification of the nerve agent involved, named as Novichok, the fact that Russia has produced the agent in the past and in the light of Russia’s past conduct and current intent, it was not unreasonable for the UK government to come to this conclusion, in line with the standards of proof applicable in international law in similar circumstances.

I find this wholly unconvincing and I am sure the vast majority of international lawyers would do so also.

What this argument essentially says is that the British are entitled to disregard the procedure set out in Article IX (2) because they had already concluded in advance of their enquiry to the Russians on the basis of evidence which they are not prepared to share with the Russians that Russia is ‘highly likely’ to have been guilty of carrying out the attack on Skripal.

That effectively admits that the ‘request for information’ – ie. Theresa May’s ultimatum to Russia – was not made in good faith and it was not really a genuine ‘request for information’ at all, but was rather a rhetorical device intended to make it easier for the British government to say without providing further proof that Russia is guilty.

Far from providing a justification for ignoring the procedure set out in Article IX (2), this looks to me more like an admission that the British have not been acting in good faith, which of course is not merely a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention but of due process.

(5) The British authorities are denying the Russians consular access to Yulia Skripal, though she is a Russian citizen who the British authorities say was subjected to a criminal assault on their territory.

This is a potentially serious matter since by preventing consular access to Yulia Skripal the British authorities are not only violating the interstate consular arrangements which exist between Britain and Russia, but they are preventing the Russian authorities from learning more about the condition of one of their citizens who has been hospitalised following a violent criminal assault, and are preventing the Russian authorities from carrying out their own investigation into the assault on one of their citizens which the British authorities say has taken place.

I would add that this obstruction of Russian consular access to Yulia Skripal has gone almost entirely unreported in the British and Western media.

Needless to say, if the situation were reversed and it was the Russian authorities who were denying the British consular access to a British citizen who had been hospitalised following a criminal assault in Russia, I have no doubt that the British and Western media would be far less reticent about it.

In truth the violations of due process are so egregious that sections of the British media have been in effect forced to admit that they are happening, and are now trying to justify them.

Here for example is what Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian has said

On the face of it, Jeremy Corbyn’s position, as set out in the Guardian yesterday, seems eminently reasonable. Anxious to learn the lessons of the Iraq catastrophe of 2003, he suggested we exercise patience: let’s wait and see where the investigation leads, let’s not “rush way ahead of the evidence”. After all, said his spokesman, the intelligence agencies had been wrong before……

But those pleas to delay judgment point to a wider error: a misreading of the nature of the contemporary Russian state…..

The error here is to assume that Moscow’s attitude to evidence and due process is the same as that of nations still governed by the rule of law. But in Putin’s Russia, lying has long been a routine and integral part of statecraft. No matter how copious the evidence, Putin will think nothing of denying it….

What meaning does “due process” have when dealing with such a regime? Moscow would not cooperate in good faith with an investigation by the international chemical weapons watchdog, offering up evidence that might be incriminating. They would see such an inquiry instead as a useful delaying tactic, one that would allow them to issue yet more denials, wild counter-accusations (“Salisbury was an MI5 plot to distract from Brexit”) and obfuscation – disseminated either through their RT propaganda TV station or by their army of bots and online enablers. That way they could generate yet more of the fog of doubt and confusion that they believe undermines the west’s confidence and strengthens them. This is the Putin modus operandi: spread doubt until the public grows exhausted and concludes that the truth is unknowable.

(bold italics added)

More pithily an editorial the Financial Times says the same thing

President Vladimir Putin’s government uses a well-worn playbook after it commits an international outrage. The first Russian response is denial mixed with the propagation of a variety of implausible alternative explanations….

The Kremlin then tries to blunt the response by wrapping its accusers up in procedure. The game is to confuse the narrative, delay the international response — and demonstrate to the Russian people and the wider world that the Kremlin can act with impunity.

(bold italics added)

The first thing to say about these articles is that they are an admission that in the Skripal case due process – ie. proper procedure in a case like this – is not being followed.

The second thing to say is that they show a startling failure to understand the purpose of due process.

Due process in a criminal investigation is not a favour to the defendant.  It is the way to arrive at the truth.

That is why in England in criminal appeals judges say that convictions in cases where due process has not been followed are ‘unsafe’.  What they mean is that because due process was not followed the court cannot be sure that the case which has been made against the defendant has been made out.

It follows that defendant’s alleged lack of good faith (the reason Jonathan Freedland and the Financial Times are giving for disapplying due process in cases involving Russia) is not a reason for disapplying due process since using due process.

It is in fact ridiculous to say – as Jonathan Freedland and the Financial Times are in effect saying – that due process should be disapplied because they believe the defendant in this case – ie. Russia –  is lying and is never going to admit its guilt.

Defendants often lie when cases are brought against them.  If they did not there would be no reason to have trials.  Defendants very often go on denying their guilt even when courts have convicted them after trials.  That is not a reason for not having trials.

Stripped of their bogus arguments, what Jonathan Freedland and the Guardian are saying is that when Russia is accused of something it has no right to defend itself.

That is an astonishing and deeply troubling thing to say.

It also looks to me rather like an admission that in the Skripal case the British authorities do not have the evidence to prove that their accusation against Russia is true.

That does not surprise me because the British authorities have apparently been unable to provide even their closest allies with evidence which proves that their accusation against Russia is true.

Here is what Der Spiegel says the British have told the Germans about the evidence – or lack of evidence – they have in the case

The key to the Skripal case is to be found in the toxin that was used. When the British briefed their German colleagues this week, they didn’t go into great detail, according to sources in German security circles. Intelligence services suspect that could be because the British no longer completely trust the Americans and are particularly wary of Donald Trump.

The British didn’t even tell their German counterparts which variation of the nerve agent they believe was used. Western intelligence experts suspect that it was Novichok of the A-232 variety, which is fluid enough to be used as a spray.

The vocabulary used by the UK and its allies indicates that British intelligence officials are highly confident in their assessment. Yet although it is clear which substance was used and that it very likely came from Russian stockpiles, there is no definitive proof that the Russian state was behind the attack, according to a senior German official on Thursday evening. The official has read through all of the documents that have thus far been presented. He said that intelligence officials are viewing the evidence laid out in those documents — several tightly printed pages — as a “compelling chain of clues.”

(bold italics added)

In other words the British case against Russia in the Skripal case is no more than surmise (a “compelling chain of clues”).

It is not based on evidence because as of Thursday 15th March 2018 (when the Germans were given the facts) there was none.

What of the argument Jonathan Freedland and the Financial Times both make – echoing things the British government has said – that concrete ‘proof’ of Russian guilt in the Skripal case is not needed because Russia’s guilt can be presumed from Russia’s previous conduct.

Putting aside that there are conflicting opinions about Russia’s previous conduct, it is actually a further breach of due process to declare someone guilty not on evidence but on the basis of their previous conduct.

Putting that aside there have been at least three cases since The Duran was founded in May 2016 when declarations of Russian guilt which were confidently asserted proved on proper examination of the evidence to be untrue.

(1) On 19th September 2016 an attack on a humanitarian convoy in Syria was widely blamed by Western governments and by the Western media on Russia.  Yet a UN inquiry headed by an Indian military officer effectively cleared Russia of responsibility for the attack.

(2) In a succession of reports Professor Richard McLaren has claimed to have found proof of a gigantic government organised state sponsored doping conspiracy amongst athletes in Russia.

These claims have been enthusiastically repeated by the Western media, and led to partial bans on Russian participation in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, on the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, and to a complete ban on Russian participation in the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

However the Schmid Commission, which on behalf of the International Olympic Committee, carried out a thorough review of Professor McLaren’s claims of a government organised state sponsored doping conspiracy in Russia, concluded that those claims had not been proved to be true.

(3) The third case is more controversial, but I personally have no doubt that the same applies.

Since at least the summer of 2016 it has been repeatedly and confidently claimed that there was a vast conspiracy between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign to steal the US Presidential election from Hillary Clinton and to swing it to Donald Trump.

The House Intelligence Committee, having investigated this claim in detail, now says it is untrue.

Though the Mueller investigation, which is also looking in this claim, has yet to report, none of the indictments it has issued suggest that this claim is true, whilst it seems the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating the claim, is also going to report that the claim is untrue.

Here we have three examples of claims of wrongful activity confidently made against Russia proving to be untrue.  Why then assume that the claim of wrongful activity made against Russia in the Skripal case is true?

Obviously presumptions of guilt based on claims of previous Russian misconduct are wrong and unsafe, and that whole approach must be abandoned as both flawed and ethically wrong.

I would finish by repeating a point I have before.

Underpinning the regular allegations made in the West about Russian misconduct including the ones now being made in connection with the Skripal case is the intense Western prejudice against Russia and against all things Russian.

I discussed this Western prejudice against Russia and Russians in detail in a long article The Duran published on 12th October 2016, and I discussed it again more recently in articles I have written about a recent report by a group of US Democratic Party Senators targeting Russia, and about the Hollywood film Red Sparrow which is currently on general release.

Now we see further examples of this prejudice with the demand in the Skripal case that Russia be denied the right to defend itself, a right which every other defendant accused of a crime has.

Personally I cannot see a more straightforward example of prejudice against Russia than that.

The Duran

 

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