The State Department has imposed sanctions against Russia in a move that surprised many, following President Trump’s seemingly conciliatory meeting with President Putin. While Trump is often criticized for being in the pocket of the Kremlin, these sanctions are yet another step in a pattern that shows the administration is treading ever further on an anti-Russian path.
The new sanctions are a direct reaction to the poisonings of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia as well as two British nationals, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, in the English town of Salisbury.
The Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok was identified as the poison and the attacks were squarely and immediately blamed on Russia, despite little evidence connecting the Kremlin to the samples found. As previously discussed on Liberty Nation, there are a number of alternative sources who could have manufactured or obtained the Novichok used and the State Department has not presented any evidence to confirm Russian responsibility for the poisonings, despite pushing forward with sanctions.
It is also possible that Sergei Skripal contributed to the Steele Dossier that alleged Donald Trump colluded with Russia to win the presidency, a theory that seems to fit with some of the recent evidence presented by investigative journalist John Solomon that the dossier was not based on information from sources within Moscow, as was previously thought.
U.S. Blames Russia for Novichok Attacks
The U.S. has so far enacted the strongest reaction to the Novichok poisonings, evicting 60 Russian diplomats and closing the Russian embassy in Seattle, which was then broken into by the State Department in a legally contentious move – according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, the land no longer belonged to Russia and officials were inspecting the property to make sure Russian officials had left as instructed; Russia meanwhile claims the act was a violation of international law.
Nauert also attributed the latest round of sanctions to the use of Novichok in Salisbury:
Following the use of a “Novichok” nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on August 6, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the Government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.
Although the U.S. has decades of bad blood with Moscow to draw on, it’s unclear why the State Department feels the need to punish Russia far more strongly than even the victim – that is, the U.K., which has expelled only 23 Russian diplomats, as well as taking some measures that could “not be shared publicly for reasons of national security,” according to Prime Minister Theresa May. Nevertheless, the U.S. sanctions seem to be going down well with the British government. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted:
If we are going to stop chemical and biological weapons – including nerve agents – becoming a new and horrific 21st cent norm states like Russia that use or condone their use need to know there is a price to pay. Thank you USA for standing firm with us on this.
Still No Evidence
Russia has repeatedly denied involvement in the Novichok poisonings. While it’s plausible that they would do so even if guilty, the fact remains that a host of inconsistencies continue to haunt the whole episode and the investigation, despite costing the public millions of dollars, has been sorely lacking in transparency.
While the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) report on the poisonings did not state that the Novichok could be traced to Russia, the organization was, up until June, unable to assign guilt for chemical attacks. Unsatisfied with this, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for a vote to extend the power of blame to the OPCW, and achieved it with the backing of 30 countries, including the United States.
Subsequently, the U.K. has made a new request for the OPCW to extend its assistance, which will involve the deployment of “a technical assistance team for a follow-up visit and to collect additional samples.”
The Porton Down military laboratory, located in the vicinity of both Novichok poisonings, has also refused to attribute blame to Russia or any other party, despite not being bound by the same limitations as the OPCW, however.
Russia has accused the U.K. investigation of lacking transparency; in one example, Anton Utkin, a former Russian U.N. chemical inspector in Iraq, told state outlet RT, “The UK’s desire is that OPWC confirm the chemical agent, that the UK has already identified. That means that the OPWC specialists will be limited to take only those samples that UK will allow, they will interview only those people that the UK would allow.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Brits “grossly manipulated” the OPCW regarding the rule change and accused the U.K. of “consistent physical extermination of the evidence.”
A military hardware factory called “Chemring Countermeasures“ situated near both the poisonings and the Porton Down facility recently exploded – whether or not there is any connection to Novichok is unknown at this stage.
Skripal, Ohr and the Steele Dossier
Investigative journalist John Solomon made waves in D.C. political circles when he revealed the role played by Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr in liaising between Trump-Russia collusion report writer Christopher Steele and the FBI.
Fusion GPS – the company that commissioned Steele’s report – co-founder Glenn Miller told Ohr that most of the information used in the dossier did not come from within Russia, after all. Ohr’s handwritten notes reportedly read, “Much of the collection about the Trump campaign ties to Russia comes from a former Russian intelligence officer (? not entirely clear) who lives in the U.S.”
According to text message records, Steele told Ohr that, “We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position now looks stable.”
Nobody is quite sure who this “guy” could be, but does Sergei Skripal fit the bill?
As previously explored on Liberty Nation, Skripal has connections to Steele’s company Orbis Business Intelligence – subcontracted by Fusion GPS to compile the dossier – through his friend and former MI6 hander Pablo Miller, thought to be an employee of Steele’s.
Skripal is a convicted traitor in Russia and it is unlikely the Kremlin would welcome him back, although by all accounts he lead a quiet and stable life in the town of Salisbury England, also the home of Miller.
He is a former Russian spy who surely has residual sources in Moscow – his daughter Yulia had flown to England from Moscow shortly before the two were poisoned.
True, Skripal is a U.K. resident, and not a U.S. one, although this could be a simple error given that Ohr’s notes appear to be sloppily written and with mistakes; Glenn Simpson’s name is repeatedly misspelled, according to Solomon. It is also reasonable to think that Steele’s source would be located in the U.K., as this is where Steele himself was based.
If there is any possibility that the Skripal poisonings are connected to the Steele dossier, it would be in the Trump administration’s interest to demand a full and transparent investigation into the Novichok poisonings, rather than accepting the existing narrative and imposing sanctions before any reliable evidence is presented.
The Russian collusion scandal may have initially been intended to discredit the Trump campaign, but as the investigation interminably continues – again, without presenting proof – it now serves as a useful distraction, convincing half the American people that Trump is a Kremlin puppet; these people have been manipulated into demanding a harder line on Russia, while the state pursues the trajectory it has been determined to follow all along: gradually escalating conflict with Russia and its allies.