US, NATO back Britain over Russian use of chemical agent

Britain has received strong support from the US and NATO over its charge that Moscow attempted to kill the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, with a rare and sophisticated nerve agent.

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Britain received strong support on Wednesday from the US and NATO over its charge that Moscow attempted to kill the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, with a rare and sophisticated nerve agent.

On March 4, Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were found unconscious in the center of the quiet town of Salisbury, where Skripal had been living since 2010 when he was released in a “spy swap” between the US and Russia.

It was soon reported that Skripal, and his daughter, who had arrived the day before from Moscow, had been poisoned. Concern grew, as it emerged that a first responder, a policeman, had also been stricken. He had come in contact with the poisonous substance, but it was unclear how.

However, the case took a truly dramatic turn earlier this week when Prime Minister Theresa May told the British Parliament on Monday that a Novichok agent had been used in the attempted murder and it was “highly likely” that Russia was involved.

Novichok is the name for a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. They are, reportedly, as much as ten times more lethal than other nerve agents, such as sarin, one of the chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein used against the Kurdish population during the Anfal campaign, or VX, which North Korea used in Malaysia last year to murder the president’s estranged half-brother.

There were just “two plausible explanations,” the British Prime Minister said. Either the attempted murder was “a direct act by the Russian state” or Moscow had “lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent,” and some other party had used it.

May gave the Russian government until the end of the following day to explain which it was.

As her deadline passed without a Russian response, she ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian spies posing as diplomats. The US followed with strong backing for the British measure.

On Monday, the White House had seemed hesitant, but on Wednesday, it issued a statement, affirming that it shared the British assessment that Russia had been responsible “for the reckless nerve agent attack,” while supporting the decision to expel the Russian diplomats “as a just response.”

Similarly, at an emergency UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, US ambassador Nikki Haley stated that the US “believes that Russia is responsible for the attack,” which had employed “a military-grade nerve agent.”

“If we don’t take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used,” she said. “They could be used here in New York or in cities of any country that sits on this council.”

In Brussels, NATO issued a statement expressing “deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO’s foundation” in 1949, while it called on Moscow to answer the British questions.

One of the mysteries surrounding this event is why did Moscow try to murder Skripal in such a way that could so readily be attributed to it? And, why do so in a way that was bound to prove so alarming to the Western powers?

Analysts have suggested there could be a link to Sunday’s elections in Russia. If Russians feel under siege, they might be more inclined to turn out and vote for Putin. Or, perhaps, the attempted murder and the way that it was carried out aimed to intimidate Putin’s other opponents living in Britain.

But, it is all just guessing. The widow of another former Russian spy murdered in Britain by Russian intelligence 12 years ago, Alexander Litvinenko, suggested there was, in fact, little logic to such decisions. We can’t really know, but, perhaps, the passage of time will provide more insight into Moscow's motives.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany