Moscow Decries ‘Anti-Russian Hysteria,’ Links New Skripal Poisoning Evidence to ‘Staged’ Chemical Attacks in Syria

By Patrick Goodenough | September 7, 2018 | 4:13am EDT
Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzya takes part in a Security Council meeting on Thursday, September 6, 2018, relating to the Salisbury nerve agent poisoning episode. (Screen capture: U.N. Webcast)

( – Moscow’s envoy to the U.N. charged Thursday that the release of new evidence of Russian involvement in a nerve agent attack on British soil was cynically timed in the run-up to a new chemical weapons provocation in Syria, for which the Assad regime would be blamed.

During a sometimes heated Security Council meeting, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzya declared further than the incident in Britain – the attempted assassination last March of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal – had itself been “a useful pretext to unleash anti-Russian hysteria … on the eve of the staging of the use of chemical weapons attack in the Syrian city of Douma.”

Now Russia’s detractors are doing it again, he implied, by releasing new information on the Skripal affair before a new “staged” chemical weapon (CW) incident in Syria.

“London needs this story for just one purpose – to unleash disgusting anti-Russian hysteria and to involve other countries in this hysteria,” Nebenzya said, claiming that the charges were yet another part of the “post-truth world” that is being created by Western countries.

The Russian delegate’s attempts to link the Skripal attack to the attack in Douma a month later – which resulted in a coordinated U.S., British and French missile strike against regime CW facilities – drew a sharp response from his British counterpart.

“This shows that, for many Russian authorities, they work in a parallel universe where facts and international norms are inverted,” said Ambassador Karen Pierce.

On the eve of an apparently imminent, Russian-backed Assad regime offensive in Idlib, Russia has been claiming that a new CW attack will be staged to draw in another U.S. military strike against the regime.

Pushing back, the U.S. says Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies are preemptively covering their tracks, before again using CW, this time to facilitate victory in Idlib, the last major stronghold of anti-Assad rebels and jihadists.

On Thursday the two issues – concerns about CW use in Syria, and the British police investigation into the attack on Skripal in the city of Salisbury – dominated proceedings at the U.N. Security Council.

Britain called for a council session to discuss progress in the Salisbury probe – including the identification of two Russians as the alleged assailants.

Echoing a statement made by Prime Minister Theresa May in parliament on Wednesday, Pierce said the two were members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service.

Images released by Scotland Yard show the two suspects in the Skripal poisoning investigation, now charged with attempted murder and other offenses. They are named as Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov. (Photo: Metropolitan Police)

Traveling under the presumably false names of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, they flew into London from Moscow on March 2, reconnoitered Salisbury briefly on March 3, and then returned to Salisbury on March 4 when CCTV footage placed them outside Skripal’s house at a time identified by police as “moments before the attack.”

Hours later they flew out of Heathrow, returning to Moscow.

Investigators found that the deadly nerve agent known as Novichok had been brought into the country in a glass perfume bottle, and had been placed on Skripal’s front door handle. Traces of Novichok had also been found in the London hotel room used by the Russian pair.

(Skripal and his daughter Yulia both fell grievously ill but survived, as did a police officer who responded to the incident. In July British woman Dawn Sturgess died in a nearby town after evidently accidental exposure to the perfume bottle containing Novichok. A male friend was also infected, but recovered.)

May told parliament and Pierce told the Security Council that Russia developed Novichok within the past decade, long after signing the Chemical Weapons Convention,” and that “Russian agents were trained in assassination techniques, including the use of such agents on door handles.”

Prosecutors have brought attempted murder and other charges against the two men, and Britain has issued European arrest warrants. Pierce said Interpol “red notices” would also be sought presently. (Russia does not extradite citizens.)

“Should either of these individuals ever travel gain outside Russia, we will take every step open to us to detain them, to extradite them, and to bring them to face justice in the United Kingdom,” she said.

Britain won strong support in the council from the U.S., France and a number of other members.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley slammed Russia for consistently lying about its involvement in atrocities, citing actions in Ukraine including the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, and the murder by polonium poisoning in London in 2006 of Russian defector and former spy Alexander Litvinenko.

“Rather than accept responsibility for its actions, the Russian government has offered only denials and counteraccusations – anything to deflect attention and distract from its guilt,” Haley said.

“The Russian denials have followed a familiar script. From Crimea to MH17 to the Donbass to the killing of Litvinenko, the list goes on and on. And the song is always the same: Russia is somehow never behind these incidents,” she said. “But no one’s buying it.”

‘From the Internet’

Among other things, Nebenzya charged that Britain had refused Russia’s offers to cooperate in the Skripal investigation.

In response, Pierce said, “You don’t recruit an arsonist to put out a fire. You especially don’t do that when the fire is one they caused.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday repeated Russia’s denials of involvement: “Neither the highest Russian leaders, nor officials of lower ranks have ever had anything to do with the events in Salisbury.”

In Sochi, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed with a reporter’s suggestion that the British were “good storytellers,” the Tass state news agency reported.

Asked where he thought the British had obtained their information, Lavrov replied, “From the Internet.”

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