Sputnik/Moscow: In several reports to date, I’ve documented how the Integrity Initiative – the shadowy UK government-funded military intelligence front – and its assorted operatives and media assets systematically shaped news reporting on, and Whitehall’s response to, the apparent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on 4 March 2018.

Now, on¬†the anniversary of¬†that fateful and ever-mystifying day, I’ll attempt to¬†track some of¬†the activities of¬†the Initiative’s parent, the Institute for¬†Statecraft, and other key figures and organizations directly and indirectly connected to¬†the body in¬†the years immediately prior.

Troublingly, the information collected here inevitably represents but¬†a negligible fragment of¬†a much wider clandestine picture. The full extent of¬†the British state’s sinister and long-running secret machinations leading up¬†to the Salisbury incident certainly isn’t ascertainable at¬†this time, and may well never be.

‘Peculiar Struggle’



In July 2014, Institute for¬†Statecraft ‚Äėsenior research fellow’ Victor Madeira wrote an article for¬†the organization’s website, Russian Subversion¬†‚ÄĒ Haven’t we been here before?. In it, he suggested that far from¬†a “new type of¬†warfare”, the West’s tussle with¬†Russia in¬†the wake of¬†the Maidan coup was “actually only the latest chapter in¬†a 100-year-old playbook the Bolsheviks called active measures”, albeit “modernised to¬†exploit the speed and reach of¬†21st-century mass/social media”.

After attempting to¬†link various tactics employed by¬†the Soviet Union to¬†the modern day, Madeira somewhat chillingly concludes the piece with¬†a quote from¬†Ronald Lindsay, UK ambassador to¬†Germany, who in¬†February 1927 urged Whitehall to¬†realise they were engaged in¬†a “new kind of¬†war” with¬†the then-burgeoning Soviet Union.

“Anti-subversive measures could not be gradual; they had to¬†be part of¬†a package of ‘economic boycott, breach of¬†diplomatic relations’ as¬†well as ‘propaganda and counter-propaganda, pressure on¬†neutrals.’ He argued a diplomatic breach with¬†Moscow would at¬†least turn ‘the present peculiar struggle into¬†an armed conflict of¬†the old-fashioned sort’ that Great Britain and the West could win,” Madeira records.

A document authored by¬†the academic¬†‚ÄĒ who 2010¬†‚ÄĒ 2014 tutored and lectured at¬†Cambridge under¬†former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove¬†‚ÄĒ in¬†January 2015 (Russian Federation Sanctions)¬†makes clear he, and presumably his Institute employers, support Lindsay’s strategy and aims.

The file sets out¬†a number of “potential levers” for¬†achieving a number of “main aims”, including “peace with¬†Ukraine”, the “return” of¬†Crimea, “behaviour change” and/or “regime change”¬†‚ÄĒ for, much to¬†Madeira’s evident chagrin, the wave of¬†sanctions imposed upon¬†Russian individuals and businesses the previous March weren’t having a sufficiently deleterious impact on¬†the Kremlin, or the Russian people.

Victor Madeira’s Ruminations on the Russian People

“[Russia] is not a ‚Äėnormal’ country in¬†most senses of¬†the word. Crucially, Russians see life and the world very differently from¬†us‚ĶRussians are not nearly as¬†driven by¬†economic and financial considerations‚ĶFor most Russians, daily life has long been a struggle (not least for¬†survival). Not having Western goods and services will not necessarily be much of¬†an issue in¬†the medium to¬†long-term,” he wrote.

Moreover¬†‚ÄĒ and perhaps worst of¬†all in¬†Madeira’s mind¬†‚ÄĒ President Vladimir Putin¬†‚ÄĒ someone who “survived abysmal post-WW2 conditions” and “[believes] nothing the West can do is worse than¬†what [he’s] already endured in¬†life”¬†‚ÄĒ remains popular among¬†the Russian public due to “the chaos” of¬†the 1990s, and for¬†having “restored stability, prosperity and pride”.

“Fear of¬†renewed uncertainty and chaos‚Ķkeeps Russians in¬†check”, he writes¬†‚ÄĒ as¬†a result, “driving a wedge between¬†Russians and [their] government is key.”

The bullet-pointed “levers” that make up¬†the bulk of¬†the document span areas including ‚Äėdiplomacy’, ‚Äėfinance’, ‚Äėsecurity’, ‚Äėtechnology’, ‚Äėindustry’, ‚Äėmilitary’, and even ‚Äėculture’, and include; suspending or expelling Russia from “G8, WTO‚Ķand similar organisations”; “[expanding] existing sanctions regimes to¬†anyone helping [Russia] break them”; “[arresting] every known RF agent¬†‚ÄĒ not least ‚Äėagents of¬†influence'”; “banning RF delegates” from¬†a variety of¬†international fora, “[advocating the] view RF [is] untrustworthy of¬†hosting [international sporting events]; “[banning] Russian companies from¬†launching IPOs in [the] West”‘; asset freezes and “visa bans” for¬†the “top 100 RF government officials and [their] immediate families”; “[sanctioning] RF media”; and much, much more.

'Potential Levers' for Regime Change in Russia Outlined by Victor Madeira
‘Potential Levers’ for Regime Change in Russia Outlined by Victor Madeira

Certain “levers”¬†‚ÄĒ such as¬†suspending visits by¬†the Bolshoi and Kirov Ballets to¬†Western countries¬†‚ÄĒ are baffling, while others¬†‚ÄĒ for¬†instance “repatriating” the children of¬†Russian government studying abroad, or “[increasing] scrutiny” of¬†Russian religious organizations in¬†Western countries¬†‚ÄĒ appear wanton and excessive, if not outright barbarous.

However, one of¬†Madeira’s suggestions¬†‚ÄĒ about¬†which he was apparently so enthusiastic he mentions it thrice¬†‚ÄĒ “simultaneously [expelling] every RF intelligence officer and air/defence/naval attache from¬†as many countries as¬†possible (global ‚ÄėOperation Foot’)”¬†‚ÄĒ is especially striking.

Operation Foot saw 105 Soviet officials deported from the UK in September 1971 at the behest of then-Prime Minister Edward Heath, the largest expulsion of foreign state personnel by any government in history.

Eerily, several mainstream media outlets would reference the historic mass defenestration when Whitehall successfully corralled 26 countries into expelling over 150 Russian diplomatic in response to the Salisbury incident, 27 March 2018.

‚ÄėSomething Dreadful’

On 12 October 2016, Institute for¬†Statecraft Donnelly met with¬†retired senior UK military official General Richard Barrons, Joint Forces Command chief 2013¬†‚ÄĒ 2016. Their discussion was incendiary.

“We have led comfortable lives since¬†the end of¬†the Cold War. Wars have been away matches on¬†our terms, with¬†resources we have chosen to¬†apply. Our institutions are now failing to¬†deliver or being bypassed. Our world system is being challenged, by¬†Russia, China‚Ķthe power of¬†initiative and decision is ebbing away from¬†the West. [The] US can no longer protect us,” the document’s introduction states.

As 50 percent of¬†the UK’s energy, and 40 percent of¬†the UK’s food, is “from abroad”, the country “has vital interests in¬†having the ability to¬†engage globally, but¬†that engagement will no longer be on¬†our terms alone”. However, while in¬†recent wars “the opposition had no peer capabilities and could pose no military threat” to¬†the UK, the conflicts “have not required the full mobilisation of¬†the military or any motivation of¬†civilian society” and “given us the impression we can afford war at¬†two percent GDP”, despite¬†the UK needing “¬£7 billion just to¬†our current force up¬†to effectiveness”.

Moreover, “mixed success” in¬†these conflicts is also said to¬†have “left a bad aftertaste” with “no appetite for¬†intervention” among¬†the British public and politicians, and UK armed forces “cannot themselves speak out¬†and say ‚Äėwe are broken’‚Ķas that would breach the rules of¬†democratic control”.

Record of Richard Barrons' Meeting with Chris Donnelly
Record of Richard Barrons’ Meeting with Chris Donnelly

Barrons goes on¬†to despair that the subordination of¬†the military to¬†civil servants and ministers in¬†the Ministry of¬†Defence means “the military do not do policy”¬†‚ÄĒ a state of¬†affairs he believes must be radically changed, with¬†the armed forces removed from¬†government control and transformed into “an independent body outside¬†politics”.

“Government is living in¬†denial‚ĶWe need discussion and debate as¬†to how Russia can be managed and deterred. We need to¬†deal with¬†Russia by¬†doing things that are serious‚ĶIf no catastrophe happens to¬†wake people up¬†and demand a response, then we need to¬†find a way to¬†get the core of¬†government to¬†realise the problem and take [the military] out¬†of the political space. We will need to¬†impose changes over¬†the heads of¬†vested interests‚Ķ[we] must either generate the debate or wait for¬†something dreadful to¬†happen to¬†shock us into¬†action. We must generate an independent debate outside¬†government‚Ķthere is not a moment to¬†be lost,” Barrons concludes.

Serious Matters

Barrons’ fears of¬†a loss of¬†US military protection were no doubt widespread within¬†the British establishment¬†‚ÄĒ for¬†some time, US Presidential candidate Donald Trump had been questioning the necessity of¬†NATO, advocating a protectionist and insular ‚ÄėAmerica first’ agenda in¬†respect of¬†world affairs.

Likewise, Trump’s repeated suggestion of¬†improved relations between¬†Washington and Moscow should he become President were unquestionably unwelcome in¬†many quarters¬†‚ÄĒ not least, of¬†course, the offices of¬†the Institute for¬†Statecraft. It’s perhaps unsurprising then the organisation played a pivotal role in¬†kickstarting ‚ÄėRussiaGate’.

The month after¬†Donnelly’s meeting with¬†Barrons, and mere weeks after¬†Trump’s shock election victory, Andrew Wood¬†‚ÄĒ UK ambassador to¬†Russia 1995¬†‚ÄĒ 2000, and a member of¬†the Institute’s ‚Äėexpert team’¬†‚ÄĒ was a delegate at¬†the eighth annual Halifax International Security Forum in¬†Canada. Senator John McCain was also in¬†attendance, and the pair would speak privately on¬†the event’s sidelines about¬†allegations of¬†Trump’s collusion with¬†the Russian state, in¬†particular, the claims of¬†former MI6 operative Christopher Steele, and his ‚ÄėTrump-Russia’ dossier.

Andrew Wood's Institute for Statecraft Staff Profile
Andrew Wood’s Institute for Statecraft Staff Profile

How and why McCain and Wood met, and precisely what they discussed, isn’t remotely clear¬†‚ÄĒ Wood has offered several wildly divergent accounts of¬†the event since, variously suggesting the meeting was entirely chance and initiated by¬†McCain¬†due to¬†the issue “being very much in¬†the news”, that he approached McCain¬†due to¬†his personal concerns after¬†being shown the dossier by¬†Steele, and that he was actively “instructed”¬†by Steele to¬†relay the dossier’s contents to¬†the Senator, without¬†having actually seen a copy in¬†full.

In any event, as¬†a result of¬†their conversation, the Senator dispatched his aide David Kramer, former assistant secretary of¬†state in¬†the Bush administration, to¬†meet with¬†Steele in¬†London and discuss the dossier’s contents, and arrange for¬†a copy to¬†be sent to¬†Washington. On 9 December, McCain met then-FBI Director James Comey and provided him with¬†the dossier, which Comey then circulated across¬†all US intelligence agencies. It would reach the desk of¬†outgoing President Barack Obama and several senior members of¬†Congress in¬†the first week of¬†January 2017.

This development would be reported 10 January by¬†CNN¬†‚ÄĒ the article stated the dossier suggested Russian operatives possessed “compromising personal and financial information” about¬†Trump, but¬†the outlet refrained from¬†publishing specific details of¬†the dossier as¬†they hadn’t been “independently corroborated”.

CNN breaking cover¬†‚ÄĒ the dossier had been an “open secret” among¬†US journalists for¬†some time by¬†that point¬†‚ÄĒ would provide BuzzFeed News with¬†the ‘public interest’ defense it required to¬†justify publishing the dossier, which it did 11 January, despite¬†acknowledging its contents were “unverified, and potentially unverifiable”, and contained “clear” factual errors.

In the days afterward, the publication was severely criticised by¬†many other media outlets¬†‚ÄĒ Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan called the dossier¬†“scurrilous allegations dressed up¬†as an intelligence report meant to¬†damage Donald Trump”¬†‚ÄĒ and the ethics of¬†publishing unsubstantiated information offered by¬†entirely anonymous sources was hotly debated.

However, these misgivings were quickly silenced, thanks in¬†no small part to¬†a number of¬†esteemed ‘experts’ who vouched for¬†Steele’s credibility in¬†the media¬†‚ÄĒ the earliest, most enthusiastic and prominent being none other than¬†Wood himself. He would variously describe Steele as “very professional and thorough in¬†what he does”, “a very competent, professional operator” who wouldn’t “make things up”, and more.

It would take months for¬†Wood to¬†reveal he wasn’t merely ‘familiar’ with¬†Steele, but¬†the pair were in¬†fact long-time friends¬†‚ÄĒ and moreover that he was an “associate” of¬†Steele’s firm¬†(what form this relationship takes, and whether Wood receives any remuneration from¬†Orbis, remains uncertain). Conversely, his association with¬†the Institute for¬†Statecraft has never been acknowledged by¬†the mainstream media, and would never have been known if it wasn’t for¬†the leak of¬†the organization’s internal files in¬†November 2018.

The leak also revealed that in¬†March 2017, the Integrity Initiative submitted a bid for¬†Ministry of¬†Defense funding¬†‚ÄĒ among¬†its key performance indicators achieving a “tougher stance in¬†government policy towards¬†Russia”, the publication of “more information in¬†the media on¬†the threat of¬†Russian active measures”, the growth of¬†its cluster network “across Europe” and “greater awareness in¬†all areas of¬†society of¬†the threat posed by¬†Russian active measures to¬†UK’s democratic institutions”.

Integrity Initiative Bids for MoD Funding, March 2017
Integrity Initiative Bids for MoD Funding, March 2017

Russ to Judgement

BuzzFeed would again be used as¬†a conduit for¬†virulently anti-Russian propaganda in¬†June, when it published a series of¬†articles¬†‚ÄĒ From Russia With Blood– documenting 14 ‚Äėsuspicious deaths’ in¬†Britain it claimed were potential or likely assassinations carried out¬†by Russian “security services or mafia groups”, which UK authorities somehow failed to¬†properly investigate.

The investigation caused something of¬†a sensation, landing BuzzFeed in¬†the running for¬†a variety of¬†prestigious journalism awards, including the Pulitzer and Orwell prizes¬†‚ÄĒ Investigations Editor Heidi Blake, who led the series, said her team’s work¬†had cemented the outlet as¬†a “major force in¬†global news”.

However, examination of the seven articles offers much reason for scepticism. First and foremost, suggestions of possible Russian involvement in the deaths hinge almost entirely on the accusations of anonymous intelligence sources, without supporting documentation of any kind. In fact, the pieces often contain information directly contradicting the notion a featured individual was even murdered, let alone by Russians.

For instance, the third installment, The Man Who Knew Too Much, delved into¬†the case of¬†Dr. Matthew Puncher, a UK radiation scientist who’d been conducting work at¬†a Russian nuclear facility, and was found stabbed to¬†death in¬†his kitchen in¬†February 2016.

BuzzFeed notes Puncher’s wife Kathryn told investigators her husband tried to¬†hang himself with¬†a computer cable the the week prior, and Detective Constable Rachel Carter, who inspected the scene, told the inquest “there was no sign of¬†a struggle, none of¬†the furniture had been knocked over, and all the blood belonged to¬†Puncher”, and she was “satisfied” he’d committed suicide as “all the information told us he was very depressed and no-one in¬†his family seemed particularly surprised he had taken his own life”.

However, BuzzFeed had other ideas, stating “four American intelligence officials‚Ķbelieve he was assassinated”. Alternatively, a former senior Scotland Yard counter-terror officer unconnected to¬†the case was quoted as¬†suggesting¬†‚ÄĒ also anonymously¬†‚ÄĒ the Russian state could have given Puncher drugs to “create depression” and precipitate his suicide.

The fourth installment¬†‚ÄĒ The Secrets Of The Spy In The Bag¬†‚ÄĒ deals with¬†Gareth Williams, the GCHQ codebreaker seconded to¬†MI6 who died in¬†a Pimlico flat owned by¬†the spying agency in¬†August 2010 and is similarly dubious in¬†the extreme.

Williams’ demise is unambiguously mysterious¬†‚ÄĒ his decomposing naked body was found in¬†a padlocked sports bag in¬†the bath, although no fingerprints or traces of¬†his DNA were found on¬†the rim of¬†the bathtub, bag, bag’s zip, or padlock, and an inquest ruled his death to¬†be “unnatural and likely to¬†have been criminally mediated”.

Ironically, much of¬†the article’s content¬†raises serious questions about¬†the role of¬†Williams’ employer’s in¬†his death. For instance, BuzzFeed notes he’d been dead for¬†around 10 days by¬†the time his body was found, but¬†astoundingly neither GCHQ nor MI6 had alerted authorities to¬†his absence from¬†work¬†‚ÄĒ it would take his sister informing GCHQ Williams was missing at¬†11:30 am GMT on¬†23 August for¬†the agency to¬†contact police¬†‚ÄĒ albeit five hours later.

The outlet also records how in¬†the ensuing investigation police were prevented from¬†interviewing Williams’ colleagues at¬†MI6,¬†or reviewing relevant documents, and instead forced to¬†rely upon¬†officers from¬†national counter-terrorism force¬†SO15, which took no formal statements from¬†witnesses, and passed on¬†only anonymised briefing notes to¬†their Metropolitan force counterparts.

Conversely, BuzzFeed fails to¬†mention coroner Dr. Fiona Wilcox ruling involvement of¬†SIS staff in¬†Williams’ death was a legitimate line of¬†inquiry¬†for police¬†‚ÄĒ instead again relying on¬†the unsubstantiated¬†claims of¬†the anonymous quartet of¬†US intelligence officials that Williams¬†had been tracing international money-laundering routes used by¬†organised crime groups to¬†blame his probable murder on¬†the Kremlin, and/or Russian gangsters.

The eponymous investigation¬†‚ÄĒ focusing on¬†the suicide of¬†Scot Young, an associate of¬†oligarch Boris Berezovsky¬†‚ÄĒ is perhaps the series’ most puzzling, for¬†more reasons than¬†one. Young¬†‚ÄĒ a corrupt tycoon with¬†clear criminal connections¬†‚ÄĒ lost all his money on¬†a failed property endeavor, spent time in¬†prison for¬†contempt of¬†court, and suffered a lengthy and costly divorce battle.

Such a litany of¬†crippling personal calamities¬†‚ÄĒ and doctors’ appraisal of¬†him as “paranoid, with¬†a manic flavour” with¬†a “complex delusional belief system”¬†‚ÄĒ would surely male Young at¬†least a potential candidate for¬†suicide watch, and indeed police concluded he’d taken his own life by¬†throwing himself from¬†his apartment window.

Three of¬†his associates, Paul Castle, Robbie Curtis, and Johnny Elichaoff likewise “experienced dramatic financial [collapses]” in¬†which they lost all their potentially ill-gotten gains, and subsequently took their own lives¬†‚ÄĒ Castle and Curtis both jumped in¬†front of¬†oncoming trains, while Elichaoff leaped off¬†the roof of¬†a London shopping centre.

Yet again though, the word of¬†anonymous US intelligence officials is sufficient to¬†perk BuzzFeed’s suspicions about¬†all their deaths, the unnamed operatives saying Russia could¬†have “engineered” their suicides “through manipulation and intimidation tactics”.

Boris Berezovsky
Why Berezovsky’s Death in Britain Leaves More Questions Than Answers

The article’s discussion of¬†Berezovsky’s death is likewise suspect and contradictory, quoting Richard Walton, Scotland Yard’s former counter-terror commander, as¬†saying his department investigated the exiled Russian’s death “very thoroughly” and “hadn’t been able to¬†find any evidence of¬†murder”. Fascinatingly though, in¬†seeking to¬†construct a case for¬†Berezovsky being unlawfully killed, BuzzFeed notes business partner, Georgian oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, died from¬†an apparent heart attack in¬†2008. American spy agencies are said to¬†have intelligence suggesting he was murdered, and while predictably none is presented in¬†the article, Patarkatsishvili was provably subject to¬†at least one assassination plot prior to¬†his death¬†‚ÄĒ and it certainly wasn’t Russian in¬†origin.

In 2007, covert recordings revealed three Georgian national security service officials had plotted to¬†kill him ‚ÄėGeorgia’s Richest Man’ at¬†the behest of¬†then-President Mikheil Saakashvili. In one recording¬†they debate the best means of¬†execution, an official suggesting they use a poisonous substance which will “kill a person two hours after¬†touching it”. “You smear [it] on¬†the door handle,” they say¬†‚ÄĒ the precise method by¬†which Sergei and Yulia were contaminated with¬†novichok, according to¬†UK authorities.

Whatever the meaning of¬†that parallel, BuzzFeed’s series is highly significant, for¬†it was fundamental to¬†cementing the notion of¬†frequent Kremlin-directed murders on¬†British soil in¬†the public consciousness in¬†the year prior to¬†Salisbury. Almost inevitably too, it was widely invoked in¬†the immediate wake of¬†the apparent poisoning as¬†evidence, if not proof, of¬†Russian state involvement.

A Tweet by BuzzFeed Investigations Editor Heidi Blake on Skripal, Documented by Integrity Initiative
A Tweet by BuzzFeed Investigations Editor Heidi Blake on Skripal, Documented by Integrity Initiative

Among those seeking to¬†connect From Russia With Blood with¬†the attack on¬†the Skripals was none other than¬†BuzzFeed’s Heidi Blake herself. Her Twitter postings on¬†the subject would be documented by¬†the Integrity Initiative in¬†regular roundups of¬†social media activity relating to¬†the incident¬†‚ÄĒ and reference to¬†the series was made in¬†an Initiative briefing document (likely circulated to¬†journalists), Russian Lies and the Skripal Case, which called the “evidence” presented by¬†her team’s investigation “compelling”.

So it was on¬†13 March 2018, nine days after¬†the Salisbury incident, then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced British police and MI5 would reinvestigate the numerous ‚Äėsuspicious deaths’ detailed by¬†BuzzFeed¬†‚ÄĒ a development the outlet reported rather triumphally. The status of¬†these probes is presently unknown, although at¬†least one has presumably been shut down¬†‚ÄĒ in¬†December that year, an inquest concluded Alexander Perepilichnyy, one of¬†the ‚ÄėBuzzFeed 14′, had died of¬†entirely natural causes.

Whatever the truth of¬†the matter, a month prior the Initiative invited Blake to¬†head an hour-long ‚ÄėInvestigative Masterclass’ at¬†an event the organization convened at¬†London’s Frontline Club¬†‚ÄĒ Tackling Tools of¬†Malign Influence.

‘A Good Shepherd’

Also in¬†June 2017, BBC Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban somewhat miraculously began conducting a series of¬†interviews with¬†Sergei Skripal in¬†the latter’s Salisbury home.

“I was intending to¬†write a book about¬†East-West espionage‚ĶMy intention was to¬†focus the story on¬†a handful of¬†people, using their stories, and the moment these narratives intersected at¬†Vienna airport, during¬†the swap of¬†2010, as¬†the key to¬†its structure. Skripal was to¬†be one of¬†the central half-dozen or so stories‚ĶI was doing this in¬†my own time¬†‚ÄĒ there was no contract. The only sense in¬†which this was a ‚Äėbook’ in¬†June 2017 was in¬†my own imagination,” Urban claims.

Aug. 9, 2006 file picture Sergei Skripal speaks to his lawyer from behind bars seen on a screen of a monitor outside a courtroom in Moscow
EXCLUSIVE: Sputnik Gatecrashes Launch of Mark Urban’s Book ‘The Skripal Files’

Over the course of¬†their discussions, Skripal would disclose much about¬†his time in¬†the intelligence services, spell as¬†a double-agent for¬†MI6, incarceration in¬†Russia after¬†discovery, and life in¬†Britain post-exile¬†‚ÄĒ although his enduring patriotism Urban found particularly notable.

“[Skripal] is‚Ķan unashamed Russian nationalist, enthusiastically adopting the Kremlin line in¬†many matters, even while sitting in¬†his MI6-purchased house,” Urban records, “he was adamant, for¬†example, Putin had not surreptitiously introduced Russian troops into¬†east Ukraine, as¬†much of¬†the Western press reported. If regular units had gone in, he insisted, they would have been sitting in¬†Kiev very soon.”

“The problem with¬†the Ukrainians is they are incapable of¬†leadership. They need Russia for¬†that. The Ukrainians are simply sheep who need a good shepherd,” Skripal explained.

Such sentiments may explain why Skripal seemingly remained in¬†regular contact with¬†the Russian embassy after¬†his arrival in¬†the UK. Speaking to¬†the Independent¬†7 March 2018, former Kremlin official Valery Morozov, an associate of¬†Skripal likewise exiled to¬†the UK, claimed Skripal had meetings with¬†Russian military intelligence officers “every month”.

Strikingly, he also rejected the notion the apparent nerve agent attack had anything to do with the Kremlin.

“Putin can’t be behind¬†this. I know how the Kremlin works, I worked there. Who is Skripal? He is nothing for¬†Putin. Putin doesn’t think about¬†him. There is nobody in¬†Kremlin talking about¬†former intelligence officer [sic] who is nobody. There is no reason for¬†this. It is more dangerous for¬†them for¬†such things to¬†happen,” Morozov cautioned.

Urban would bizarrely fail to¬†reveal having bagged the unprecedentedly fortuitous scoop until¬†three months after¬†the Salisbury incident¬†‚ÄĒ an extremely curious delay, perhaps partially explained by¬†his lucrative book deal with¬†publisher Pan Macmillan being announced mere days later.

The resultant work, The Skripal Files, was published in¬†October¬†‚ÄĒ rather than¬†a history of “East-West espionage”, the project had evolved into¬†an extensive telling of¬†the government’s official narrative on¬†the Salisbury incident, buttressed by¬†discussions of¬†alleged Kremlin assassinations in¬†the UK, and Skripal’s life and career.

However, while widely marketed as¬†the “definitive account” of¬†the affair, the name Pablo Miller doesn’t appear once in¬†the text¬†‚ÄĒ an amazing oversight given Miller was Skripal’s MI6 recruiter and handler, and neighbour in¬†Salisbury, rendered all the more perplexing by¬†Miller and Urban once having served¬†in the same tank regiment.

Miller’s connections to¬†the Salisbury incident are unclear, and by¬†design¬†‚ÄĒ immediately afterwards he deleted his LinkedIn account, which revealed him to¬†be a Senior Analyst at¬†Christopher Steele’s Orbis Intelligence, and on¬†7 March Whitehall issued a D-notice¬†blocking mention of¬†him in¬†the mainstream media. Miller also has unclear connections to¬†Integrity Initiative, his name appearing¬†on a list of¬†invitees to¬†an event hosted by¬†the organization, alongside¬†representatives of¬†the BBC, Porton Down, the FCO, the MOD and the US Embassy.

Adding to¬†the intrigue, Initiative operative Dan Kaszeta¬†‚ÄĒ a “counterfeit” chemical weapons ‚Äėexpert’¬†who was the very first source to¬†suggest Sergei and Yulia may have been struck by¬†novichok, a mere four days after¬†the Salisbury incident¬†‚ÄĒ noted he’d met Urban “several times over¬†the past¬†few years” in a glowing review of The Skripal Files¬†(since removed from¬†the web) he wrote for¬†the organization¬†in December 2018.

In what may just be an intensely spooky coincidence, as¬†2017 drew to¬†a close British-American TV project Strike Back: Retribution– a spy-dramabased on¬†a novel of¬†the same name by¬†ex-SAS soldier Chris Ryan¬†‚ÄĒ began airing on¬†Sky One in¬†the UK. The series followed the activities of¬†Section 20, a fictional branch of¬†British Defence Intelligence, which conducts secretive high-risk missions throughout¬†the globe.

'Strike Back: Retribution' Episode Summaries
‘Strike Back: Retribution’ Episode Summaries

In episode four, broadcast 21 November, it’s revealed character Ilya Zaryn¬†‚ÄĒ who Section 20 rescued from¬†the clutches of¬†a terrorist group¬†‚ÄĒ is, in¬†fact, Karim Markov, a Russian scientist who murdered a number of¬†his colleagues with¬†novichok, and is assisting the terrorists in¬†their nefarious schemes.

In the next episode, Section 20 locate Zaryn/Markov in¬†a laboratory in¬†Turov, Belarus, where he’s found producing more novichok¬†‚ÄĒ but¬†while they manage to¬†destroy the facility and the nerve agent, the dastardly Russian escapes.

In the next, Section 20 track Markov to¬†a lab in¬†Pripyat, Ukraine¬†‚ÄĒ but¬†in attempting to¬†contain the nerve agent, Section 20 operative Natalie Reynolds is contaminated. The unit forces Markov to¬†create an antidote, but¬†is killed before¬†he can concoct one¬†‚ÄĒ Reynolds’ fellow agent Thomas McAllister manages to¬†improvise and save¬†her, however.

The series would air early the next year in¬†the US on¬†Cinemax¬†‚ÄĒ the second episode featuring novichok was transmitted 2 March, two days prior to¬†the Salisbury incident, the third 9 March, five days after.

Expecting the Unexpected

Mainstream hostility towards¬†the Kremlin had been intense ever since¬†2014, but ‚ÄėRussiaGate’ pushed this antipathy into¬†overdrive. Critical, aggressive and paranoid media reports and statements by¬†politicians had become an essentially daily staple by¬†the start of¬†2018.

UK Chief of General Staff Gen. Nick Carter (File)
UK Chief of General Staff Gen. Nick Carter (File)

Nonetheless, on¬†22 January¬†General Nicholas Carter, UK Chief of¬†General Staff, offered perhaps the most hawkish speech on¬†Russia since¬†the demise of¬†the Soviet Union in¬†1991. Speaking at¬†a Royal United Services Institute event, Carter described the country as¬†the “most complex and capable state-based threat to¬†our country since¬†the end of¬†the Cold War”, and warned hostilities could start “sooner than¬†we expect”, particularly as¬†he¬†‚ÄĒ ironically¬†‚ÄĒ claimed the Kremlin had “[convinced] ordinary Russians the West is a threat‚ĶWe have been made to¬†appear as¬†the enemy”.

“If Russia sees itself in¬†decline, and more able now to¬†go to¬†war than¬†in the future, does this encourage them to¬†think of¬†war? Perhaps compare the situation today to¬†1912 when the Russian Imperial Cabinet assessed that it would be better to¬†fight now, because by¬†1925 Russia would be too weak in¬†comparison to¬†a modernised Germany; and Japan, of¬†course, drew similar conclusions in¬†1941. Russia worries, I think, that the West will achieve a technological offset in¬†the next decade,” he cautioned.

Carter said the conflict¬†‚ÄĒ which he naturally envisaged being initiated by¬†Russia¬†‚ÄĒ would “start with¬†something we don’t expect”.

Not long after¬†the speech,¬†Operation Toxic Dagger¬†was launched¬†‚ÄĒ a vast three week effort in¬†which 40 Commando Royal Marines, Public Health England, the Atomic Weapons Establishment and Porton Down’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory collaborated to¬†prepare Britain’s armed forces for¬†Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear operations by¬†creating “realistic exercise scenarios based on¬†the latest threat information”.

The endeavour included “company-level attacks and scenarios concerning CBRN vignettes, concluding with¬†a full-scale exercise involving government and industry scientists and more than¬†300 military personnel”, with¬†a “chemical decontamination area set up¬†not merely to¬†treat ‚Äėpolluted’ commandos, but¬†also wounded prisoners”.

It was convened on¬†Salisbury Plain¬†‚ÄĒ several of¬†the Royal Marines taking part would be seconded¬†to Operation Morlop, a multi-agency ‚Äėclean-up’ effort launched in¬†Salisbury in¬†the wake of¬†the poisoning of¬†the Skripals, less than¬†a fortnight after¬†Operation Toxic Dagger was completed.

…and from George Galloway, published at RT:

Britain puts new roof on Skripal House of Horrors (by George Galloway)

George Galloway

George Galloway was a member of the British Parliament for nearly 30 years. He presents TV and radio shows (including on RT). He is a film-maker, writer and a renowned orator.

In 12 months of shifting sands, one thing remains as its original foundations: the British state narrative on Salisbury stands as a castle in the air.

One year from the dastardly fate of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, no one is a step forward on what happened to them, how, why, or of course where they are.

One year ago, a nerve agent was allegedly sprayed onto their front doorknob. One year later, their house needs a new roof as a result. And why the roof? And why only the roof?

Also on rt.com Salisbury poisoning: One year on, still no evidence of Novichok nerve agent use disclosed to public I don’t know what happened to the stricken pair but then, neither do you, however much you’ve followed the story in Britain’s mass media. In fact, the more you’ve read, the more confused you’re likely now to be.

There are some things I do know, however.

The first is that the Russian state had as little to gain from attacking this pair in broad daylight on a Salisbury street with a signature Soviet-developed weapon, ‘novichok,’ as I said at the time.

It was exactly 100 days before the World Cup, just days before President Putin’s re-election. If ‚Äď and it’s a big if ‚Äď the Russian state wanted to kill the Skripals, many things would’ve been different.

Firstly, they would’ve been dead. Yulia would’ve been dead in Russia where she lived. And Sergei would’ve been dispatched at a less sensitive time by rather more reliable, less identifiable means, and by rather less comical killers.

The killers would not have flown directly from and back to Moscow. They would not have entrusted their egress to the Sunday service of Wiltshire public transport. They would not have smiled up at every CCTV camera they could find.

Also on rt.com ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’: Salisbury, the Skripals & the epic failure of the British Fairy Tale They would not have stayed at a downscale small hotel in East London, they would not have smoked drugs there, and they would not have noisily entertained a prostitute in their room. They would not have left traces of their nerve agent in their hotel room. They would not have spent a mere hour scoping Salisbury the day before the alleged poisoning of the Skripals. Nor would they have returned by public transport to London for their sex and drug party, only to retrace their steps by public transport the next day.

If they were going to kill a man and his daughter, they would not have trusted nerve agent on a doorknob when there was no conceivable way of knowing who’s hand would touch it. Yulia? Sergei? The milkman? Any Tom, Dick or Harry in the street (or any of their children)?

If they were going to smear nerve agent on a doorknob, they would’ve done it in the dark ‚Äď not at noon the next day, when anyone or any camera could watch them doing so, yet no one did. Quite apart from the salient fact that by noon the victims had already left the house never to return to it.

If the Skripals were merely victims in this case, why were both of their phones switched off in the hours between leaving their home and their afternoon repast. How did they manage to happily feed ducks in the park with bread between drinks and lunch, and share that bread with a local child ‚Äď but neither child nor ducks suffered any ill effects?

If they left home early that morning, why were no signs of illness observed until after the pub and the restaurant at least five hours later? If the roof of the Skripals’ house has to be replaced, why not the roof of the restaurant? If Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was affected, why wasn’t the first responder? How come the first responder turned out to be a most senior British Army nurse?

Also on rt.com First responder in Skripal poisoning turns out to be Britain’s most senior military nurse Why did the police wait months before publishing the likenesses of the two chief suspects?

If the Skripals were merely victims, why have they been hidden, why haven’t they told us what happened?

Why was there a second bottle of perfume? How did it get into the hands of Dawn Sturgess? Why would the assassins need two bottles of perfume? Why and where did they discard the second, unopened, bottle?

Believe me, I could adumbrate 500 questions more but you’d be dropped down at your door if I did ‚Äď from fatigue!

Suffice to say, there are way more questions than answers in the Skripal story. But not for the British government.

Their answers were swift and have had serious consequences for Russia, for Britain, and for the world. That they have made no effort to persuade a highly skeptical British public, relying on crude methods of information warfare instead, is a further reason why I and many others simply don’t believe them.

Neither will history, if I’m any judge.

Journalism ‚Äď history’s first draft ‚Äď is easy to purloin when most journalists haven’t the time, inclination or resources to question the state ‚Äď especially inclination. History books though, grind exceedingly fine.

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