Spy Poisoning Row
- General Studies 2: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests
In News: UK Prime Minister Theresa May has announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the attack on a former spy and his daughter who were poisoned on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent. The pair were hit with Novichok, which refers to a string of chemical weapons developed in Russia starting in the 1970s.
OPCW (the international chemical weapons watchdog) says analysis of samples confirms UK findings about nerve agent used in Salisbury attack – The OPCW does not have the power to identify the source of the nerve agent, only to spell out its chemical properties. It is standard OPCW procedure not to identify the laboratories involved in testing the samples, but the organisation draws from a multilaterally agreed list of labs.
Who is Sergei Skripal?
- He is a former Colonel who was part of the Russian army’s intelligence wing until 1999. He then worked for the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow until 2003.
- He was arrested in Moscow in December 2004 for spying for Britain, and sentenced to 13 years in prison in August 2006.
- Russian prosecutors said British intelligence, the M16, had paid Skripal $ 100,000 for “sensitive” information he had been supplying since the 1990s. Skripal was a double agent, a spy who had double-crossed colleagues in the Russian intelligence wing, betrayed fellow army veterans, and provided information to Britain that inflicted considerable damage on Russian intelligence.
- In July 2010, Skripal was the beneficiary of a spy swap, and had since been living a quiet life in the UK.
The attack on him now appears to have broken the Cold War espionage etiquette that pardoned spies would be left alone in the countries that ultimately hosted them.
Reactions: The reactions are disproportionate as this would lead Russia to retaliate, which means break down of all ways of communication. It has led to one of the biggest diplomatic crises between Russia and Western nations since the Cold War.
Need to follow the process: There was a need to first inform OPCW and send them samples so that Russia could not investigate. There was an immediate accusation from Britain’s end. Russia claims that just before the Presidential elections and just before the World Cup and Winter Games, nobody in Russia would carry this out. Russia has accused Britain of trying to drum up anti-Russian sentiment, suggested the British might have carried out the attack themselves. It has denied possessing the nerve agent Britain says was used while Russian President Vladimir Putin has said it was nonsense to think that Moscow would have poisoned Skripal and his daughter.
Responsibility of OPCW: It is important for OPCW to get the two main chemical stockpile holders to actually destroy their stockpiles on an accelerated basis in a prescribed timeline.
Connecting the Dots:
- The poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain has prompted a global diplomatic row. Discuss.