Nerve Agent Attack in Britain

Kai Huang - 1B Computer
Posted on: March 24, 2018

On March 4, first responders arrived at a public bench in the city of Salisbury, England to find 66-year-old Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia Skripal lying unconscious. They were immediately taken to hospital and an investigation began immediately. According to the UK government, the two were poisoned with a nerve agent from the Novichok family.

Sergei Skripal grew up in the USSR, serving in the Soviet Airborne Troops. He later became an intelligence officer in Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in the early 1990’s. He worked around Europe before returning to Moscow in 1996 due to health complications from diabetes. After a few years working at the headquarters and even becoming acting director, he retired in 1999 with the rank of colonel. The GRU was not at the time aware that Skripal had been recruited by British intelligence in 1995 and was exchanging classified information for money. The data exposed many undercover Russian operatives and led to several expulsions.

In 2004, he was arrested outside his Moscow residence and in 2006, convicted of high treason. His sentence was for thirteen years in a detention facility and the loss of his rank and decorations. However, in July of 2010, due to an agreement, he was released alongside three others being detained in Russian prisons in exchange for ten Russian spies being held by the FBI. He and his wife moved to Salisbury and gained British citizenship. According a friend of his, Skripal did not see himself as a traitor as he swore his oath to the Soviet Union, not Russia. The friend also said that Skripal had written to President Vladimir Putin to ask to be allowed to return to visit his parents and other relatives.

The British investigation into the attacks tested samples of the nerve agent used, finding it to be positive for a unique family of agents. Prime Minister Theresa May announced on 12 March that laboratories had identified it as one of the Novichok family, a series of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union and Russia between 1971 and 1993, claimed by scientists to be the deadliest nerve agents ever made. May declared that the act was either deliberate by Russia against the UK or that the nerve agent was no longer in the control of Russia, and demanded a response. After unsatisfactory communications, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats and their families on March 20, and the EU withdrew their ambassador from Russia.

Russian statements dismiss the relevance of the attack, stating that the incident occurred on British soil to a citizen that was known to have worked for a British secret service. May’s statements were poorly received in Russia, with a spokesperson for the foreign ministry describing it as “a circle show in the British parliament”. Russia’s Security Council representative told the United Nations that no research or development on what is known as “Novichok” is being performed and that all development efforts in chemical weaponry had been terminated in 1992. He added that, in 2017, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had certified the Russian Federation’s completed destruction of all existing stocks of chemical weapons, while the United States and United Kingdom had not yet been verified to do so.

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