World condemns Putin over spy poisoning

On a mission: The two suspected killers arrive at Gatwick Airport and travel to Salisbury.

Are we at war with Russia without realising it? Yesterday, the UN Security Council said March’s Salisbury spy poisoning was “almost certainly” approved by the Russian government.

Friday, March 2, 2018. 4:22pm. Two men are spotted on CCTV cameras at Gatwick Airport. They had travelled on Russian passports using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. They are thought to be officers from Russia's military intelligence service — the GRU. Their mission: to murder former spy Sergei Skripal.

The two men checked into a hotel in east London. The next day, the pair caught a train to Salisbury. They were there to carry out a reconnaissance of Skripal’s adopted hometown.

Then, on Sunday, they returned to carry out the attack. One shot shows them walking in the vicinity of Skripal’s house. Police believe that they sprayed the door handle of Skripal’s house with Novichok, which they had disguised as a bottle of perfume.

They headed back through Salisbury, looking good-humoured as they sauntered towards the station. Back in London, they transferred straight to Heathrow Airport and were back in Moscow as news of the poisoning emerged.

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, somehow survived. But the poisoning did claim one victim: Dawn Sturgess, a woman from Salisbury, who was poisoned by the same nerve agent in June.

Theresa May said it was “not a rogue operation” and that it was “almost certainly” approved by the Russian state. Yesterday, the US, France, Germany and Canada released a statement agreeing with May and urging Russia to provide full disclosure of its Novichok programme.

The Russian constitution states that its citizens cannot be extradited to another state. But if either of the suspects sets foot in any EU member state, they can then be brought to the UK thanks to the European Arrest Warrant.

Russia, of course, denies everything. Russian news bulletins are mocking the claims, calling it a “detective story” and an “absurd political thriller”.

In Britain, the language is rather more serious. Tory MP Tom Tugendhat called the attack “a completely unacceptable, warlike act”. He also called Putin “a thief and liar and a warmonger.”

Are we at war with Russia without realising it?

Beast from the East

The Russian government tried to kill a British citizen on British soil. That is as obvious an act of war as you will get, say some. This is what modern warfare is like: no huge battles, no bombing raids, but cyber attacks, secret assassinations and constant menace. And Russia has been doing this for a long time.

Don’t be ridiculous, reply others. Britain is rushing way ahead of the evidence. Russia is a shady, mysterious country, and Putin is not the only powerful person there. Russians and Britons do not live in fear of each other. No troops have been dispatched. This bellicose rhetoric makes a real, deadly conflict much more likely.

You Decide

  1. Do you consider Russia an enemy?
  2. How should Britain react to this?

Activities

  1. Draw a diagram showing how a nerve agent kills a human being.
  2. Write a two-minute speech to give to your country’s government on how to deal with Russia.

Some People Say...

“Hard men present hard choices — none more so than Vladimir Putin.”

Hillary Clinton

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We can be almost certain that Petrov and Boshirov are the two perpetrators. The evidence is overwhelming. We can also be pretty sure that these are not their real names, assuming that they are Russian secret agents. We know that several high profile Russians have been killed in the UK in past decades, and the Russian state has been implicated in the majority of these.
What do we not know?
We still do not know for sure that it was Vladimir Putin who personally ordered the operation. We do not know why Skripal was targeted. He had reportedly feared for his life; his wife, son and brother all died recently. After the spy swap, Putin said “traitors will kick the bucket, trust me.”

Word Watch

GRU
Short for Glavnoye razvedyvatel'noye upravleniye, meaning Main Intelligence Directorate. It is the Russian equivalent of the CIA in the US or MI6 in the UK.
Sergei Skripal
A former military intelligence colonel in Russia, Skripal was convicted in 2006 of spying for the UK. The Russian secret service accused him of passing on the identities of Russian secret agents in exchange for money. He was later pardoned, and moved to the UK in 2010 as part of a spy swap.
Novichok
Meaning “newcomer” in Russian, the name is used to refer to a group of nerve agents that were developed in the 1970s and 80s by the Soviet Union. A nerve agent is a poison that cannot be produced naturally.
Somehow survived
Skripal left hospital on March 22, two and a half weeks after the poisoning.
Dawn Sturgess
She fell ill and died after coming into contact with the nerve agent at the same park where the Skripals collapsed. Her partner, Charlie Rowley, survived.

Subjects

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