A Quiet Day in Salisbury

Normally when I hear the recognisable chime of another BBC update on my phone, I assume perhaps morbidly that yet another household favourite in their 90s has died.

Instead, to my utmost surprise, just a mere 42 miles away in the quiet, peaceful UK city that is Salisbury, a crime that would fit perfectly in an Ian Fleming novel has just taken place.

On Sunday the 4th of March 2018, emergency services are called to investigate two suspected drugged up homeless people on a bench in the middle of Salisbury. Ten days later we now have the UK and three other world powerhouses pointing fingers at Russia.

What happened?

On the 4th March the first offensive use of a nerve agent since World War Two was used to attempt to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Instead, both Sergei and his daughter remain in critical condition in hospital, while another 36 people were caught up in what Theresa May has described as a ‘brazen attack’. One British Police Officer still remains in hospital.

Who is Sergei Skripal?

Sergei Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer and a British spy. He was jailed for 13 years in 2006 for spying. He spent 4 years in the Mordovia labour camp, until in 2010 he was released as part of a high profile spy swap.

Since then he and his family set up their new life in Salisbury. However, both his wife and his only son have both since died, leaving just Sergei and his incredibly intelligent and by all accounts talented daughter Yulia.

Yulia had moved back to Russia and was only visiting her father when she arrived in the UK on the 3rd of March. Instead of a pleasant visit, she and her father lay in critical conditions.

This leaves us to ponder the questions of how, what and why?

For now the only question that has categorically been answered is:

What?

It has been revealed after testing in the UK’s Military laboratory Porton Down, that the nerve agent used and one developed militarily by Russia is called Novichok.

Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that when released aim to prevent the nervous system from functioning correctly and thus can and aim to be fatal. In order to effectively work nerve agents usually need to be either ingested, inhaled or to penetrate through the skin.

The BBC have reported that this particular nerve agent was  developed in Russia during the 1970s and 80s. It is also reported that one of the chemicals used within it A-320 is between 5-7x more toxic than the VX nerve agent that was used to kill Kim Jong-nam the half brother of the notorious leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un.

How and Why remain clouded in mystery, although it is possible to assume, and assume correctly, that Sergei Skripal’s spying background would not make him popular at all with Russia, or anyone affiliated with Russia.

Nonetheless, this attack has had a profound effect on world politics. Already the leaders of both Russia and the United Kingdom have started a diplomatic tic for tac war, with Theresa May announcing the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats during PMQs on Wednesday. The  callous act we have seen in Salisbury has seen another political spanner in the works in Theresa May’s rather disappointing tenure as PM. However, if I’m honest I was surprised and quite proud of the actions that the UK has taken against Russia, by applying pressure on Russia to produce answers and when these time limits have not been met, publicising this for the world to see. Even today the UK’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson has stated that it ‘is overwhelmingly likely’ that Putin ordered the attack. Putin has enjoyed making the most of the lack of democracy and accountability in Russia and finally the UK, of all places, has stood up to him and his regime. The US 2016 election has now been shown to have been influenced by Russia and the Kremlin, and although this was publicised worldwide and frankly was obvious to see, no serious repercussions have occured. The UK however, have and are continuing to pursue repercussions and answers. Theresa May’s decisions so far look to be decisions of strength and refusal to secede to the Kremlin. Putin and the Kremlin’s international representatives have denied and refuted the UK’s claim that either Russia was behind the attack or it had a lapse in the security of its military grade nerve agent. It will therefore be very interesting and actually quite nerve-wracking to see what the potential results of the investigation and the political repercussions between Russia and the UK.

This attack has not only had dramatic effects on world politics, but also asked questions of domestic politics. I’ve already seen tweets, videos and news articles referring to the conflict of interest between the British Conservative party and Russia, in particular to their party donations. Since Theresa May has moved into 10 Downing Street, Russian oligarchs have given the Tories over £820,000. Naturally, the Labour party have jumped straight onto this political bandwagon. Finally, the UK electorate have politicians pushing each other in high quality debates over a very important issue, with Labour MPs demanding even stronger retaliation. However, another spanner in the works in Jeremy Corbyn’s push to wait for further evidence has seen another split in the Labour party, with 30 Labour MPs signing a motion unequivocally placing sole blame on Russia. This whole debacle has produced both worldwide and domestic political questions and will continue to do so. There are so many points and issues at stake here and this article has aimed to give a brief overview of the attack on Sergei Skripal and its political ramifications. In the weeks to come I will delve into the specifics regarding both the domestic and world political effects of this callous attack.

By Harry Lown

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