Russia faces new accusations of developing chemical weapons and planning the 2018 Salisbury poisonings.
New claims by investigative journalism website Bellingcat – which played a role in identifying the real names of the Salisbury poisonings suspects – allege Russian medical and scientific experts worked with the GRU intelligence agency to plan the Salisbury attack.
In March 2018 former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, fell ill after being poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok.
Police later found the poison had been smeared on Skripal’s front door in Christie Miller Road in Salisbury.
Months later, in July 2018, mum Dawn Sturgess died after coming into contact with the same lethal substance. Her partner, Charlie Rowley, recovered after fighting a serious illness.
Wiltshire Police officer, Nick Bailey, had also fallen ill after coming into contact with it during the initial investigation. Last weekend he announced he was quitting policing over the ordeal.
Then Prime Minister, Theresa May, strongly condemned Russia in the House of Commons – accusing it of orchestrating the attack, or at the very least losing control of the poison it created.
New Bellingcat Novichok claims
The European Union recently imposed sanctions on six Russian officials and a Russian research institute, Bellingcat says.
It also names a military doctor, claiming phone records show his contact with the GRU unit suspected of planning and carrying out the Salisbury operation.
The investigation sheds new light on possible ways the attack on British soil may have been coordinated, and where the Novichok poison may have originated from.
It took months to check and deep clean areas of Salisbury contaminated by the poison.
BBC Newsnight’s diplomatic editor, Mark Urban – who wrote a book about Sergei Skripal and the Salisbury attack – said on Twitter the Bellingcat investigation had had a huge effect on the international community.
One of the labs Bellingcat discusses was not known about by chemical weapons inspectors, he says.
I hear this remarkable investigation, using phone records to tie GRU novichok attacks to 2 research institutes like “effect of a small nuke” on global chemical weapons compliance community – 1 of those Russian labs, in St Petersburg, was unknown @opcw https://t.co/x8DuqE8PU4
— Mark Urban (@MarkUrban01) October 23, 2020
Bellingcat also repeats a theory it has previously considered, that the GRU may have targeted Sergei Skripal in Switzerland, not Salisbury, had he travelled there.
Russians deny new claims
The accused Russian doctor, and research institute, denied Bellingcat’s claims against them.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in September the Soviet Union never had a Novichok chemical weapons programme.
President Vladimir Putin claims to have personally overseen the destruction of Russia’s last chemical weapons in 2017.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body which independently confirmed the use of Novichok in Salisbury in 2018, also confirmed Putin opponent and politician Alexei Navalny was poisoned with the nerve agent in August this year.
The Putin critic was evacuated to Germany, where he has received treatment.
Bellingcat claims the recent poisoning and the findings of its investigation show Russia is likely still storing and working on chemical weapons.
Bellingcat worked with news organisations The Insider, Der Spiegel and RFE/RL on its latest investigation.