A Lie Too Far?

On 4 March 2018 it was a nice day in southern England, and the MI6 Russian spy Sergei Viktorovich Skripal and his daughter Yulia stepped out for a stroll, stopped at the local pub in Salisbury, went to lunch at a nearby restaurant, and then took a walk in the park where they collapsed on a park bench. What had happened to them? Did they suffer from food poisoning? Or was Sergei Skripal involved in some dark affaire and the object of a hit by persons unknown, his daughter being an accidental victim?

The police received a call that day at 4:15pm reporting two people in distress. Emergency services were despatched immediately. The Skripals were rushed to hospital, while the local police launched an investigation. It began to look like attempted murder, but the police urged patience, saying it could take months before they might know what had happened and who, if anyone, was responsible.

The Conservative government decided that it did not need to wait for a police investigation. “The Russians” had tried to assassinate a former intelligence officer turned informant for MI6. Skripal went to jail for that, but was released four years later in an exchange of agents with the United States. Now, “the Russians,” so the Tory hypothesis goes, wanted to settle old scores. Less than 24 hours after the incident in Salisbury, the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, suggested that the Russian government was the prime suspect in what looked like an attempt gone wrong to assassinate Sergei Skripal.

On 12 March the foreign secretary summoned the Russian ambassador to inform him that a nerve agent, A-234, had been used against the Skripals. How did you do it, Johnson wanted to know, or did the Russian government lose control of its stocks of chemical weapons? He gave the Russian ambassador 24…

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