Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Russia attacked a NATO country and the President of the United States refuses to commit to their guilt. A little over a week ago, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped over on a park bench. They and the detective who found them are still in critical condition in a British hospital. This is reminiscent of the poisoning of former KGB member, Alexander Litvinenko, a Putin critic who became the first human in recorded history to die from polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said of the latest attack: “Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.” As far as her rationale for why Russia is to blame? She pointed to “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations.” Additionally, testing revealed to May that “It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.”
Novichok means “newcomer” in Russian and it describes a group of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1999, officials from the United States traveled to Uzbekistan in order to dismantle and decontaminate one of the U.S.S.R.’s largest chemical weapons testing facilities. A senior defector told the BBC that the Soviets used that plant to produce small batches of Novichok, which is designed to escape detection. NPR reached out to an expert who came to the same conclusion that it had to be Russia:
“As far as I know, I don’t know anybody who knows how to make it except these guys in Russia,” says Dan Kaszeta, a chemical weapons expert with Strongpoint Security in London. “They’ve been a deep, dark secret.”
Trump’s now former Secretary of State (as of this morning’s tweet which alerted Rex Tillerson to his fate) also said it “clearly came from Russia.” Plus, BuzzFeed dove into the 14 UK deaths that American spy agencies attributed to Russia, and found a treasure trove of proof. To put the cherry on top of all this, Nikolai Glushkov, a close associate of Putin critic Boris Berezovsky was found dead in the UK this morning (cause of death has not been released yet, but Alexander Litvinenko was also close with Berezovsky, so it would not be surprising to see Glushkov meet the same fate).
This is basically a case where the murder weapon was found registered to the accused murderer, yet our manchild-in-chief can’t even be bothered to stand firmly with our closest ally when they claim they have all the proof they need to make some pretty harrowing accusations.
"As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be" – President Trump on Salisbury poisoning https://t.co/fiPPBhAZFcpic.twitter.com/wv5kWRIK2e— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) March 13, 2018
“Or whoever it may be.” Hell, the Russian Embassy in the UK practically tweeted out their motive last week.
There's a reason that Russia uses convoluted methods like this for political assassination, as security expert Matt Tait touched on.
Anyone call fall off a balcony or get shot in the street. But using isotopes that only occur in specific reactors, or VX that only a few nation-states have labs that can make isn't an accident. It's messaging: You betray us, we kill you. And your western handlers won't save you.— Pwn All The Things (@pwnallthethings) March 7, 2018
So why won’t President Trump forcefully condemn Russia like our allies? It’s one thing when it has to do with his election. He’s so vain that anything which remotely hints that he may not be 100% responsible for his victory is discarded as “fake news.” I get that. But here? A chemical attack by a foreign adversary on our closest allies’ soil? And the president is still in his “it may not have been Russia” mode? This reaction is enough to make me believe the craziest conspiracy theories about this Russia madness, because those are a far more concise explanation for Trump’s hesitation here than any rationale that he or his cronies have provided.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.