by Michael Antony for The Saker Blog
The recent titbit fed to us by Bellingcat (reputedly close to MI6) that a third Russian agent was booked on the flight from Heathrow to Moscow on the night of 4th March 2018 — the flight taken by the two alleged GRU officers filmed in Salisbury — but didn’t show up for it, has pointed to a possible solution to the baffling Skripal puzzle. What if the third man, or perhaps the man who was supposed to take his place, was by then lying in Salisbury Hospital in a coma from opiate poisoning? What if Sergei Skripal was a triple agent trying to escape back to Russia to tell the world the truth about the Steele Dossier, which he had helped to concoct as a scurrilous, obscene joke and which had unexpectedly become the new bible of the insane war party in Washington?
This is the alternative narrative I will set out in detail here so that the reader can judge whether it forms a more plausible and coherent story than the mishmash of improbabilities, absurdities and contradictions served up by the British police and MI6. Of course in the absence of all the facts we must sometimes use imaginative reconstruction to fill in the gaps, but the point is to see how many thorny problems, raised by the facts we do have, can be solved by this narrative and cannot be solved by the official one.
It is not necessary to decide whether Skripal was a triple agent from the start (that is, a plant sent across in a spy swap, a classic Cold War way of infiltrating the enemy) or whether he became a triple agent when he realized how important this grotesque Steele Dossier had become and how much the Russians would pay him to come back and demolish it. What evidence there is (his phone call in 2012 to his old school friend, Vladimir Timoshkov, whose account of it three weeks after the poisoning gained widespread UK media coverage) suggests he started out as a purely mercenary traitor. Disillusioned by the collapse of the USSR into a gangster capitalist state run by Yeltsin’s mafia cronies, he decided he might as well profit from it by selling the corpse of what had once been his country to the highest bidder. The Russians didn’t seem to think of him as much more than a common criminal (only worth a moderate 13-year sentence, instead of the death penalty he would have got in the USA for betraying 300 agents) or they wouldn’t have let him survive six years in their prison. Perhaps when they exchanged him in the spy swap they gave him a wink and said: “Since you’re just a money-grubbing whore, any time you want to come back with some interesting stuff learned from working for MI6, let us know and we’ll discuss the price.”
He soon got to learn that interesting stuff when he was sent to Salisbury, the home town of his MI6 recruiter and handler, Pablo Miller. Miller had recruited him in Spain in 1995 and later handled him from Estonia, when he was posted there as a diplomat. It is a little too much to believe Skripal’s move to Salisbury was a coincidence. The two men became friends again, met regularly in the pub, and there is every reason to think Miller resumed his role as handler. Miller was now working for Christopher Steele, his old boss at MI6, in his private intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, based in Mayfair. This is one of the private intelligence-gathering outfits run by ex-spies of the kind Litvinenko used to work for. Just as Litvinenko got Lugovoy (his accused assassin) to help him out with due diligence reports on Russian businessmen because of his more up-to-date information, so Miller would have used Skripal in the same way. His help became vital when Steele got the commission from the Democratic Party to dig up Russian dirt on Donald Trump, and they had to invent some GRU set-up of the Donald with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. Miller, the old Russia hand, would have done a good part of the work on this dossier and would have needed all the authentic detail his Russian agent could provide. Perhaps it was Skripal who came up with the scenario of Trump getting prostitutes to urinate on the bed the Obamas had slept in, which hidden cameras filmed. He must at least have given it his imprimatur as a typical GRU blackmail ploy to turn somebody into an asset. And that obscene fiction, the core of the Steele Dossier, became the basis of the neo-con legend that Trump was a Russian stooge — the insane underpinning of the whole mad Mueller probe into “Russian collusion”.
When Sergei the mercenary realized the vast importance this farcical, obscene Steele Dossier had taken on, that it was gospel truth for the whole anti-Trump, anti-Russia war party in Washington, he began to see how much it might be worth to the Russian state to blow it sky-high. If he were to describe on a prime-time Russian talk-show how he invented these obscene details over a beer with Miller and Steele in a pub, it would not only have all of Russia rolling on the floor with laughter. Heads would roll in Washington. The neo-con war party would become a laughing-stock. MI6 would be run out of town. Steele might face FBI perjury charges. The CIA might have its budget cut. Trump would be able to talk to Putin again. And the rewards for Sergei might be considerable. Not only seeing his 90-year old mother again, but perhaps even a swanky villa with a sea-view in Crimea or Sochi instead of that dank, shabby row-house in darkest Salisbury.
Was it Sergei who broached this subject to Yulia on one of her visits to Britain, or was she recruited by the GRU to put it to him? My bet is the latter, since after the poisoning her cousin Viktoria claimed Yulia’s new boyfriend and his mother both worked for the Russian secret services (before disappearing from view.) With all of Sergei’s communications monitored by MI6, the only way he had of talking to the GRU was through his daughter, living back in Russia again but able to visit Britain. Through her he must have managed to negotiate a deal for his return. Somehow MI6 got wind of their plans — perhaps Yulia, not a trained spy, was a bit naive or careless about listening devices. Steele became convinced they had made an escape plan for Sergei, to be carried out next time she visited Salisbury.
The thing that proves this was a British crime not a Russian one is the fact that Yulia was a prime target. The Russians had no motive to eliminate her, but if they had, they could have done it in Russia with a simple road accident with no questions asked. Only the British had to do it in Britain, since they didn’t have the resources in place to do it in Russia. And if she was not a prime target but collateral damage, why was Sergei not attacked when he was alone? Why wait for her to visit him? The fact they were both targeted the day after she arrived in Britain puts MI6’s signature all over it. She was a danger to MI6 because she knew of Sergei’s plan to return to Russia and trash the Steele Dossier, and she had to be stopped from revealing this to the world when he was killed. Silencing her at the same time was just as important to MI6 as silencing him.
To imagine that Putin would have ordered the assassination of an old double agent whom he had held for six years in prison (with ample opportunities to arrange his death) and then pardoned and swapped in a spy swap (part of the rules of the spying game on which his own life had been based), a week before the Russian elections and three months before the Football World Cup in Russia, which he hoped would lead to Russia’s re-acceptance into the community of nations, makes no sense. It carried only huge risks for a negligible benefit, and Putin does not take pointless risks, as his consistent prudence in Syria, even when his forces have been attacked, has shown. Compare the enormous gains this crime brought Britain. This assassination (as it was meant to be) gave MI6 a perfect opportunity to frame the Russians and incite a new anti-Russia frenzy to sabotage their celebratory Football World Cup (compared by the British Foreign Secretary to Hitler’s Olympics.) It would also show the EU Britain’s value as an anti-Putin cheerleader, bringing Europe and Britain together in an anti-Russia hate-week to distract from their Brexit quarrel, and uniting a fractious parliament behind a floundering leader. With any luck it would derail the Nordstream2 gas pipeline, a priority target for the US neo-con plan to ruin Russia’s economy, overthrow the regime and break up the country — goals MI6 fully shared, as their propaganda wing, the Integrity Initiative, has since made clear. In fact MI6’s plans to work for the total isolation and economic ruin of Russia, including sporting bans and ending cultural exchanges, date from 2015 and were leaked recently by Anonymous. The enormous preponderance of motivation on the British side, as well as the low risk in carrying out such a crime on their own turf with a grovelling press, a brainwashed public and tame police, point clearly to MI6 as the perpetrators.
Steele probably turned to his CIA friends for suggestions on how to frame Russia. They came up with novichok. This nerve agent invented by a Soviet chemist who later moved to the US and published the formula could be pinned on Russia as a uniquely Russian “chemical weapon.” Never mind that any decent laboratory could produce it, as a chemistry professor at Cornell has testified. Never mind that the British-invented nerve agent VX had been used to assassinate Kim Yong-Un’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur Airport without Malaysia screaming that Britain must have done it. Russia is different. Hysterical hatred can be instantly incited against Russia by the MI6-controlled media and MI6-brainwashed politicians. Anyone who doubts Russia’s guilt can be vilified as a Putin stooge. Whether the novichok was sent over from the US by courier or produced at Porton Down is not important. What is important is that MI6’s attempt to kill the Skripals with novichok failed disastrously.
Let’s take the famous Nina Ricci perfume bottle, laced with novichok, which was found in a rubbish bin or charity bin by a homeless man and given weeks later to his woman friend, who tragically died after spraying it on her wrist. The police/MI6 narrative is that this perfume bottle was used to transport the novichok from Russia in the baggage of one of the alleged GRU men caught on CCTV in Salisbury. The novichok was then sprayed on the door handle of the Skripals’ house. The assassins then callously threw away the bottle (which they knew contained enough novichok to kill more people) in a dustbin or charity bin, demonstrating their indifference to loss of life as well as their indifference to leaving clues all over the place. There are problems with this narrative.
The homeless man claimed he had found the perfume bottle still in its box sealed in cellophane, proof it was not reopened after it had been laced with novichok and professionally repackaged. The bottle could not therefore have been used (as claimed) to spray the novichok on the doorknob, or the cellophane seal would have been broken. Assassins far from home don’t usually carry around cellophane-wrapping machines to repackage opened perfume bottles, especially when they are just going to chuck them in the bin. Nor would they take the risk, having fitted the separate spray nozzle onto the bottle and sprayed the doorknob, of disassembling it again to put it back in the box, knowing that a drop on their skin would kill them. And where would they perform this delicate operation? On the street? This poisoned perfume bottle was therefore never reopened, never used and it affected nobody until it ended up in the hands of the homeless man. So who or what was it intended for?
Ladies’ perfume bottles are normally intended for women. How many women are there in this story? Only one. The only possible explanation for the existence of this unopened, unused bottle of perfume laced with novichok is that it was a poisoned gift meant for Yulia Skripal. Why didn’t she open it? Because she had a spy father who took one look at it and said: “Don’t touch it!”
So here is the alternative narrative. MI6 had the bright idea of putting novichok in a Nina Ricci perfume bottle and sending it as a birthday present to Yulia Skripal at her father’s house. Her birthday was on 17th March, but the present was probably delivered on the 3rd, the day she arrived, so as to nip their escape plan in the bud. It was meant to seem like a present from her family or boyfriend. No doubt the parcel had Russian stamps on it, designed to frame the Russian state when the Skripals were found dead in their house with an open perfume bottle in Yulia’s hands. Unfortunately for MI6, Sergei took one look at this Nina Ricci perfume bottle and his spy instincts smelled danger. He refused to open it, but instead went for a long walk with it and put it in a rubbish bin or charity bin half-way across town. There it was found by the homeless man and given to his woman friend, a victim of MI6’s murderous callousness. Even after MI6 knew it had gone missing, they did not warn the public to beware of picking up a Nina Ricci perfume bottle because they didn’t want to give themselves away as the assassins.
The failure of the perfume bottle to kill the Skripals must have alarmed MI6. They followed the pair around Salisbury the next day. Where did they go? We can’t be sure since we have not been given all the CCTV footage. But let us engage in some more imaginative reconstruction to cover the gaps. The Skripals’ car made some unexplained journeys towards the outskirts of the town. The two alleged GRU men caught on Salisbury’s CCTV walked in some unexplained directions, with not a scrap of evidence they came within half a kilometre of the Skripals’ home. What if the two unexplained journeys intersected? Not necessarily in time but in place. What if they met at that hoary cliché of spy stories, the dead drop, the discreet delivery point for a package? The hole-in-a-garden-wall just big enough to hide something? A Mossad spy, commenting on the British police narrative, said that no GRU assassination team would ever have flown direct from Russia using Russian passports. But a support team delivering a package? Why not? What did they risk?
Now what would the GRU need to deliver to Sergei Skripal to help him escape from Britain back to Russia? Clearly, a passport. MI6, once they suspected his loyalty, would have put him on an airport watch list. He would need a passport in a false name to get out, and perhaps a flight ticket to Moscow in the same name so he wouldn’t need to make an internet booking, easily spied on. But the passport could not be blank. It needed a UK visa and entry stamp. So the third Russian agent who Bellingcat now tells us didn’t show up for the flight back to Moscow must have intended his seat to be taken by Sergei Skripal, who would use the passport and visa which he had flown in with a few days before (delivered to Sergei by his two colleagues at the dead drop that day.) Either Sergei and the third man bore a sufficient physical resemblance or passport photos were switched by an expert forger in London. Unfortunately, though Sergei now had a usable passport, he was hit before he made it to the flight.
MI6, after the failure of the perfume bottle attempt, knew they had to act fast to stop the Skripals driving to the airport. Once they observed the package delivery at the dead drop, they would have guessed it was a passport. There was now no chance of using novichok. The Skripals were unlikely to return home and pack a bag, so they had to be knocked out in a public place. Using novichok and risking the lives of dozens of other people was too much even for MI6. So they decided to spray them in the street with an opiate like Fentanyl, and later on to add novichok to the blood samples they sent to Porton Down for analysis (without of course any controlled chain of custody except their own.)
We know that the Skipals were knocked out with an opiate and not a nerve agent because of a simple incident — in fact, a slip-up. The first person on the scene when the Skripals collapsed on their bench was an army nurse, the Chief Nursing Officer of the British Army, Colonel Alison McCourt, accompanied by her teenage daughter, Abigail. Does anyone believe she was there by chance and was not part of the MI6 team following the Skripals about and looking for an opportunity to drug them discreetly? Now Colonel McCourt had long experience both with Ebola in Sierra Leone and with the danger of chemical weapons during her service in Iraq, where protection against nerve agents was a priority. She knew the enormous precautions required in approaching a victim of a nerve agent attack. Yet Colonel McCourt encouraged her daughter to rush over to the collapsed Skripals and begin administering first aid to them, something very dangerous if a nerve agent had been used. She later even recommended Abigail for a medal for heroism for her action, which is why it got into the papers. How did Colonel McCourt know that a nerve agent had not been used on the Skripals, unless she was part of the team that had sprayed them with an opiate? Would she have allowed her daughter to touch the Skipals unless she was sure there was no nerve agent present? This is what is known as a smoking gun.
There has been extraordinary silence in the mainstream media about the fact that none of the first responders or the Salisbury Hospital staff were in any way affected by the deadliest nerve agent known to man, even though no precautions were taken against it for at least two days. The nurses assumed they were dealing with an opiate overdose. When the blood test results came back from Porton Down showing novichok present in the blood samples, the hazmat suits were donned and the hospital allegedly went into panic mode. We can assume most of this was a charade. Sergeant Bailey, allegedly contaminated with novichok though the police can’t decide where, recounts in the Panorama BBC film shown in November that the nurses who cared for him wore full hazmat suits, but his wife and children wandered in to see him wearing no protection at all. Clearly the nurses were engaging in an MI6-mandated charade but couldn’t bear to impose it on his family because they knew there was no novichok present. Bailey, no doubt also drugged by an opiate, had been selected as a fake British victim to stir up more indignation against Russia, and to add further fake proof that novichok had been used, which the total absence of contamination of first responders might cast doubt on. As part of this charade, all the poor man’s furniture and belongings were destroyed by the heartless brutes of MI6, which he recounts in tears, in order to incite more irrational hatred of Russia — which the British public, the most brainwashed on earth, came up with on cue.
Of course the failure of the perfume bottle assassination attempt, and the need to switch drugs and use an opiate instead of novichok, left MI6 and the police with the task of explaining how the phantom novichok was administered. The farcical story they finally came up with, that it was sprayed on the Skripals’ front door handle with the perfume bottle, has convinced nobody except the brainwashed masses. Even the clownish Foreign Secretary’s story that MI6 had shown him a Russian spy handbook which described how their spies had recently been practising putting novichok on door handles (a technical skill obviously requiring weeks of training and about to be unleashed en masse against Britain’s unsuspecting doorknobs) but unfortunately he couldn’t produce this handbook as it was classified, left people howling with laughter. It was worthy of a Monty Python sketch, something the Russians, who are great fans of British comedy, must have appreciated.
The idea that assassins could walk up to the front door of a terraced house in broad daylight, a door with clear glass panels in the middle and on both sides of it, so that anyone outside is visible from the hallway, and spray the doorknob with novichok while the Skripals were inside and their car was in the driveway, is simply not believable. These professional assassins did not even have a car or even bicycles to make a getaway if seen. And the two police versions of what time the attackers did this, first of all at 9.15 before the Skripals left home and then at 1.30 (after the police revised their timeline to fit the train schedule of the two Russians caught on CCTV) would both have left many hours’ delay before this deadly nerve agent took effect at 4.15 that afternoon.
We are asked to believe that two people of very different size, a man of 66 and a girl half that age, fell unconscious at the exact same moment either seven hours or three hours after being poisoned with a deadly “military grade” nerve agent. Why this delayed effect? Would this be useful in a battlefield chemical weapon — let’s leave the enemy active for several hours? And how to get a simultaneous collapse many hours later? No explanation. And if novichok was used to attack the Skripals, why was Abigail McCourt not affected when she gave them first aid and why did her highly trained army nurse mother allow her to touch victims of a deadly nerve agent?
The intelligent people who work in Salisbury Hospital cannot possibly be dupes to this grotesque deception, riddled with impossibilities. They are therefore accomplices and criminally responsible. I believe many of the hospital staff suspected MI6 was staging this whole thing but went along with it because of the high level of Cold War, anti-Russian brainwashing of the British population. They saw it as an exciting spy game they were taking part in with their wonderful secret services who had Won the War and Saved the World. It was a question of loyalty to Britain to defend this criminal lie. They must have suspected the Skripals’ blood samples had been laced afterwards with novichok. Perhaps the OPCW did too, since they claimed the traces of novichok were “very pure”. Was that a hint it had never been through any human body? One can sympathize with the Russians for trying to hack the laboratory computers to find out if any of the experts had expressed doubts to each other or suspicions the OPCW had set this up. Since they knew they were victims of a shameless NATO conspiracy to frame them, all they could do was try to expose it by any means they had.
The Russians’ patience and calm in the face of this campaign of lies and hate have been almost saint-like. If the West is not wiped out by the nuclear war they are constantly pushing for with Russia, then one day Britain and all the other NATO vassal states which wrongfully expelled droves of Russian diplomats will have to make Russia an abject apology and pay compensation for the misery caused the Russian people by their illegal sanctions. Is it too much to hope that some people at Salisbury Hospital or in the local police who know the truth will have the courage sooner or later to come forward and expose this vile warmongering deception, and the totalitarian media manipulation by the sinister forces that secretly govern Britain? Do they spare a thought for the Skripals and the state they are in right now — held incommunicado without any charge against them, not represented by any lawyer, and unable to communicate with their family or the public? Surely they are not fooled by that scripted video? Where are the human rights campaigners protesting against this totalitarian sequestration? What world are they living in? Has it not occurred to them that in the era of MI6’s proven involvement in torture, whether in Guantanamo, Abu Graib, black sites or extraordinary rendition to places where people can be tortured to death, Yulia Skripal might be listening every night to her father whimpering in the next cell as the voice goes on repeating: “You Ruskie bastard, tell us when you started lying to us.”
The official narrative about the Skripals has been shot full of holes by various dissident commentators in the alternative media. That always begs the question: well, so what really happened? The above alternative narrative, combining both the known facts and speculations to cover the gaps where the facts are still missing, should allow the reader to judge its overall plausibility, compared to the official one. To prove an alternative narrative to the criminal’s story, a prosecutor does not need to establish every single event in the chain, many of which will remain unknown. He only needs to prove that certain key events in the criminal’s narrative are contrary to the known facts, and that these facts are compatible with the alternative narrative. The key facts in this case are the state of the Nina Ricci perfume bottle, clearly never opened after it was laced with novichok and repackaged, and therefore never used to spray novichok anywhere; the impossibility of a deadly nerve agent having a three hour delay in its effects and then affecting two very different people at the same moment; the unlikelihood of a senior army nurse allowing her daughter to touch victims of a nerve agent; the unlikelihood novichok was used (rather than an opiate), given the lack of any effect on the first responders, and the fact Sergeant Bailey’s children were allowed to approach him without wearing hazmat suits, which the nurses, however, wore.
Put those basic problems in the official narrative together with the speed with which the UK government blamed Russia for this event, when there was no more link between Russia and novichok than between Britain and the use of British-invented VX nerve agent to assassinate Kim Yong Un’s half-brother in Kuala Lumpur airport. No nerve agent whose formula has been published is the monopoly of any nation, nor does its use incriminate any nation. This rush to judgment reveals a premeditated plan by Britain to use this event to sabotage Russia’s Football World Cup (which they compared to Hitler’s Olympics) as part of a long-term British goal to isolate, discredit and economically ruin Russia. The need for MI6 to prevent Skripal exposing the Steele Dossier, produced by Skripal’s MI6 handlers, since it would show the degree of Britain’s cynical interference in the American election to discredit Trump and destroy any rapprochement with Russia, formed the motive for MI6 to commit murder, for which it has a considerable reputation. Combining the two things, killing the Skripals and crucifying Russia for it, was no doubt seen as a great coup by MI6. It was seen as even more ingenious to follow up this alleged “chemical weapons” attack on British soil with the fake chemical attack at Douma staged by the White Helmets, founded and financed by MI6. This was aimed at relaunching the war to overthrow Assad and dismantle Syria, giving the Americans and the Israelis its oil fields, and allowing Qatari gas to be piped to Europe to replace Russian gas. All of these fit Britain’s and NATO’s known strategic goals. The speed of the knee-jerk response of NATO countries in expelling Russian diplomats, without any debate or demand for evidence in any parliament, raises the suspicion that this was planned not by MI6 alone but jointly with the CIA and other NATO secret services, which largely control supposedly democratic governments.
The continued NATO harassment, sanctions and campaigns of lies and false accusations against Russia, including the blatant war rhetoric of the British Defence Secretary, do not bode well for the future. For the US to tear up nuclear arms treaties and then blame Russia is beyond shameful: it is destroying all possibility of negotiations to avert war. The Kerch Strait incident staged by the puppet regime in Kiev, sending gunboats into the Kerch Strait without observing the 2003 Protocol requiring them to notify in advance the Port of Kerch (a protocol observed by the dozens of ships that go through the Strait peacefully every day) was clearly part of a NATO plan to set up a major naval clash in the Black Sea. That clash (followed by an attempt to recapture Crimea or at least blow up its magnificent bridge, a reproach to a man who cannot even build a wall) may be expected in coming months, perhaps as a distraction from Brexit or a way of derailing it. NATO, in short, is on a clear trajectory towards war with Russia, which their deluded worldview convinces them they can win. Their initial use of Russia as a scapegoat and bogeyman to unite the NATO vassals against a common threat, keeping Europe in subjection to America, has got out of hand, and is heading, under the impetus of hysterical rhetoric, towards actual war. Unless decent people unite to stop this escalation then the nuclear catastrophe will occur. Exposing the barefaced lie of the Skripal false flag attack may be a step towards averting that global cataclysm.
Michael Antony is a writer based in Switzerland, and his next book, about the coming nuclear war, is called Requiem for America. He has a blog, email@example.com