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Attempted Spy Assassination in UK: Is Russia responsible?

Assassination
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News Analysis |

Britain will respond appropriately if evidence confirms the role of the Russian state in the nerve attack on Russia ex-spy and his daughter, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May said last week on Thursday. This is the highest level-warning given by the United Kingdom so far. May has also said that ‘if action needs to be taken then the government will do that’. Amber Rudd, the British Home Secretary, said that the attack was ‘brazen and reckless’.

Russia has denied its involvement, saying that the accusations are knee-jerk anti-Russian propaganda.

Former Russian spy Sergie Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, have been comatose in a hospital since they were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping center in the city of Salisbury on Sunday. A doctor who happened to be one of the first people on the scene described Ms. Skripal as unconscious on a bench, vomiting and fitting, having lost control of her body.

Espionage is not only restricted to the movies. It is an ever occurring phenomenon between nation-states and spies are considered essential to the security of each country. The fact that countries have spies in each other’s’ jurisdiction is a bit of an open secret.

Police are yet to confirm how exactly the poison was administered. Mr. Skripal and his daughter visited the Mill pub and Zizzi restaurant on Sunday afternoon. The pub as well as the grave of Mrs Skripal has been sealed off by the Police. Officials are searching for leads and are questioning anyone who may have been at the same place at the same time as Mr. and Ms. Skripal over the past few days. The nerve agent attack is being described by authorities as attempted murder. Both Skripal and his daughter are in critical condition. A total of 21 people are being treated after the nerve attack.

Sergie Skripal, 66, served in the Russian GRU’s (Main Intelligence Directorate) intelligence unit where he reached the rank of colonel. He then served in the Russian foreign ministry’s office until 2003, after which he went into the business sector. Skripal was convicted in Russia in 2006 for spying for the UK and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He had revealed the identities of dozens of Russian spies to MI6, the British Foreign Intelligence Agency. He was given refuge in the United Kingdom in 2010 as part of a high-profile ‘spy swap’ with Russian spy Ana Chapman.

Read more: Will Trump continue the CIA’s cover-up in the JFK assassination?

The glamorous spy, Ana Chapman, was arrested in the United States for running the Illegals program in what the US called a network of Russian sleeper agents spying on the FBI. Chapman was one of 10 Russian spies exchanged for Sergie Skripal in 2010. Nerve agents are toxic substances that have been used for assassinations during peace time and war as well. They are called ‘nerve agents’ because they disrupt the functioning of the nervous system.

A few well-known nerve agents are sarin, VX and Tabun. The symptoms of nerve agents include heart failure, respiratory problems, twitching and spasms. They can easily lead to death. They are highly dangerous and those that administer it have to handle it with care, lest they get infected as well. They can be administered in either liquid state; the form of a drink or in gaseous state; in the form of aerosol sprays. According to Dr. Simon Cotton from the University of Birmingham, a single drop can be fatal. Antidotes exist, such as atropine, but the antidote must be taken soon after exposure to the nerve agent for them to have the proper effect.

The statement by the Prime Minister’s office certainly suggests that the United Kingdom is ready to take action. This may lead to Russia doing the same. Thus, it is likely that tensions will escalate.

This is not the first time a nerve agent has been used during peace time and in high-profile assassinations in modern times. The half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un was assassinated by the VX nerve agent. Kim Jong Nam died after two women smeared his face with the agent in a bizarre encounter at the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia last year. North Korea denied all allegations of involvement.

In 1995, five two-man teams from the shadowy doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo (literally the ‘Supreme Truth’) released Sarin nerve gas in a Tokyo subway. 13 people died in what was recognized as the worst attack on Japan in its modern history. Sarin gas has also been used on a large scale in Syria. The Syrian regime is blamed for stockpiling and using it. Alexander Litvinenko was a former Russian spy who was given asylum in the United Kingdom. He was also poisoned and a public inquiry concluded that his assassination was probably ordered by Vladimir Putin himself.

Read more: How the US destroyed Afghanistan

Apart from cooperating in World War 2 against the Nazi regime, ties between the United Kingdom and Russia have generally not been warm since the war. The two were on opposite poles during the Cold war. More recently, relations between London and Moscow have been tense, especially since Brexit. British MPs have criticized Russia for spreading fake news in British social media in an effort to increase the likelihood of Brexit.

Nerve agents are toxic substances that have been used for assassinations during peace time and war as well. They are called ‘nerve agents’ because they disrupt the functioning of the nervous system.

Facebook has launched an inquiry into it. After the attempted assassination of Sergie Skripal, the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said, “It is clear that Russia is, I am afraid, in many respects now a malign and disruptive force.” Johnson also said that Russia was launching cyber-attacks against British infrastructure. If evidence confirming Russian role in the attempted murder of the former Russian spy emerges, the UK might react by expelling Russian diplomats from its soil. The statement by the Prime Minister’s office certainly suggests that the United Kingdom is ready to take action. This may lead to Russia doing the same. Thus, it is likely that tensions will escalate.

Read more: Survival in the age of information warfare

It’s interesting to note that the UK has given asylum to a number of people from different countries that are wanted for either criminal or subversive activities in their own countries. Prominent examples include Altaf Hussain from Pakistan, Sergie Skripal from Russia and members of the Muslim brotherhood-Egypt. Espionage is not only restricted to the movies. It is an ever occurring phenomenon between nation-states and spies are considered essential to the security of each country. The fact that countries have spies in each other’s’ jurisdiction is a bit of an open secret.


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