Statement by Ambassador Vassily A. Nebenzia, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at the Security Council meeting on the letter by the United Kingdom dated 13 March 2018
On 14 March, 2018, the Security Council followed up on a letter from Prime Minister of United Kingdom Teresa May by an open meeting. The letter brought heinous and totally unsubstantiated accusations against Russia of using chemical weapons on the UK soil.
UK representatives promised at that meeting to regularly brief the Council on the course of the investigation. However, no briefings came from their side. Well, in this case we will brief you in detail ourselves.
It has been a month since Russian citizens Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious in the British town of Salisbury.
The use of chemical weapons, if it were the case, is a threat to non-proliferation. And as such, this issue deserves to be addressed by the Security Council. Especially since we have what to tell and to ask from our British colleagues.
So, what do we know about the crime and its victims?
Sergey Skripal was convicted in 2006 for espionage for Great Britain. After being pardoned in 2010, he lived in that country while retaining the Russian citizenship. His daughter Yulia, a citizen of Russia, came to visit him from time to time. According to the version circulated by the UK side, Russia did not forgive his treason and decided to eliminate him. Although it’s evident that posed no threat to Russia.
A number of questions arises here. First of all, speaking cynically, why did we wait for eight years and ventured on it just two weeks before the presidential elections and several weeks before the World Soccer Cup? Why at all had he been let out of the country?
Why eliminate him in such a peculiar, dangerous for the perpetrators themselves and the wider public, and scandalous way?
All those who are familiar with detective stories (for example, the 20 seasons of a popular TV series “Midsomer Murders”) know about hundreds of relatively straightforward ways to cunningly send a person into eternity. However, those who made an attempt on the life of Sergey Skripal and his daughter allegedly chose an extremely toxic chemical compound, in other words, the most risky and dangerous method. Moreover, they did their job half-way since both victims seem to be alive and Yulia, thank God, is rapidly recovering.
This murky case raises a lot of questions. And their number is growing with every day.
From the outset, the British side, in the person of such savvy chemical experts as Prime Minister Teresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, has said dogmatically that the Skripal case involves the use of a toxic agent “Novichok” and that agent is “highly likely” of Russian origin.
If this super-powerful agent was dispersed inside the Skripal’s house or on its door handle (and this is what the investigation apparently tends to believe), how could have the Skripals remain in good condition for several more hours? While police sergeant Nick Bailey, who first came to their rescue, immediately fainted? How could all of them have survived this at all? The only plausible explanation is that all of them were immediately administered an antidote. In order to do it, as the experts unanimously believe, the sample of the same (and not merely similar) agent should have been at hand.
The British Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down known for developing chemical weapons is just several kilometers away from the place of the assassination attempt. Its activities also raise quite a number of questions.
But tough luck: Gary Aitkenhead, head of the laboratory at Porton-Down, said on Tuesday that his laboratory had identified that «it was military-grade nerve agent but has not been able to identify its origin». This is a quote. Moreover, he stated that no antidote was administered to the Skripals. He alleged, that the British Government, unlike him, might have some additional sources. We have to give credit to Mr. Aitkenhead as he had not sacrificed his professional reputation to serve the speculations of the British authorities. He also assured that nothing like THAT could have left the four walls of his institution. A question: what is THAT? That couldn't have left the four walls of the laboratory? And whether the OPCW is aware of THAT?
In any case, we are witnessing a situation when the crucial British argument about the “undoubtedly Russian origin of the substance”, on which was based the whole system of the so-called “evidence” that Russia was “highly likely” involved, has broken down. But this statement by Mr. Aitkenhead merely adds more mystery to the case that we are considering now.
We would like to once again bring to the notice of urbi et orbi: despite the allegedly obvious Russian name, “Novichok” is not a Russian copyright. It is a designation used in the West for a family of military-grade nerve agents which, and this comes as no surprise to the expert and scientific community, were developed in many countries, including the US and the Great Britain. And Boris Johnson in response to a direct question by a correspondent from “Deutsche Welle” unequivocally confirmed that Porton Down possesses its samples. Yesterday the Foreign Office deleted a tweet about “the Russian origin of this substance”. This has already triggered scandals and rumors.
But British special services, like “Chip and Dale”, rushed to the rescue of Boris Johnson and British Foreign Office. Yesterday on the pages of “The Times” they informed that, thanks to scientific analysis and intelligence data, they had succeeded in determining a likely origin of the nerve agent only a few days after the chemical attack in Salisbury. It is claimed that on 7 March the British Cabinet already knew that it is overwhelmingly likely that the poison was produced in Russia. The British special services believe that they succeeded in spotting the location of the Russian secret laboratory that produced the nerve agent in question. And then – attention! – the article says that sources of British special services can’t be absolutely sure about the location of the laboratory but the degree of their confidence is high (!). They also believe that the Russian side had conducted tests to find out whether the “Novichok” might be handy for politically motivated assassinations.
And there is even more! Just yesterday “The Daily Mail” revealed to us that the British intelligence possesses certain “top secret information” provided by certain sources stipulating that Russia, as it turns out to be, on the eve of Salisbury attack tested the “Novichok” nerve agent on various everyday objects, such as door handles.
Ladies and gentlemen! I am at a loss how to comment this. For this resembles a certain theater of the absurd! Couldn’t you have invented a more trustworthy fake? However, we know the true value of British intelligence data from Tony Blair.
We told our British colleagues that they had gone too far and would end up in trouble. Because one thing is to bring forward accusations unsubstantiated by any evidence, and quite another – to switch to a conversation in a professional language, which instead of a “megaphone diplomacy” entails clear answers to legitimate questions. I do not think
that the British investigators are grateful to the British government for their hasty and peremptory conclusions.
Of course, it never occurred to your politicians. They were far from suspecting that their “sensational statements” would backfire. They heartily launched a convenient and what they believed a timely and “juicy” anti-Russian canard – the tune of “Russian chemical assault” – without realizing that when the dust subsides they would have to be accountable for their words.
Meanwhile London has started to poison our relations with other States. UK and a number of British allies expelled 150 Russian diplomats “as a sign of solidarity”. We know that your ambassadors around the world twist the arms of sovereign states, coercing them into following this bad example.
You stirred up a wave that has reached New York. Your allies from the United States undertook an unprecedented expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats including 12 diplomatic officials of the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations. No reason was provided for such a move and no consultations were held with us as the Agreement regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations provides for. The US thus flagrantly disregarded its obligations as the Host Country of the Headquarters of the United Nations. By the way, regretfully, this is not the first example of non-compliance of the United States with its obligations. The United States seized from Russia its diplomatic property, including property of the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations here in New York. The US established a 25-mile radius zone limiting the movement of our diplomats, denies them visas and visa extensions. We urge the United States to honour in a responsible way its obligations as the Host Country and to return everything it unlawfully seized from us and to refrain from such measures in the future.
We are now witnessing amazing developments. At the meeting on 14 March I already referred to a “new breakthrough” in the system of law – accusations on the basis of suspicions without any proof. But there are more stunning things here. I am really bewildered watching debates, interviews and statements by British politicians. O tempora, O mores! Where has the “Merrie Olde England” gone? The question is – what do we see here, the lack of professionalism or degrading political culture? Or perhaps, this is how a new political culture does look like? I do not know. I would let those present here make their own conclusions.
The UK authorities try to mock Russia referring to 30 versions of what has happened. Please note that those are versions presented not by the Russian authorities, but by experts and journalists. Yes, that’s true ‑ there are many versions due to the lack of facts and evidence, and we in Russia all want to decipher this murky story. Instead, the UK authorities have only a few versions. To be precise, only one which they pass for a verdict. In the meantime they are still unable to determine the source of the contamination: was it the Skripal house, the door handle, flowers, buckwheat or bay leaf? One should admit that open-minded people and experts from the United Kingdom as well as other countries also have various versions. And a lot of questions, to which there are no answers.
Here are just a few of them.
Where were the Skripals for four hours while their cell phones were turned off? How were the samples taken? Who can confirm their authenticity? Why wasn’t their relatives’ consent to take blood samples solicited? How come an antidote against an unknown chemical substance was found so quickly? Was an antidote really administered to them? What was Mr. Skripal doing in life? Who were his contacts? Did he make any visits? With whom did he communicate? Did they meet anyone on that day or on the eve? Where is the CCTV data? How do such hasty accusations correspond to Scotland Yard's statements that the investigation would take weeks or even months? Why have we been denied consular access to Russian citizens, who may have become victims of a possible terrorist attack carried out on British soil?
The UK authorities light-mindedly decided that they would get away with their groundless insinuations. Believe me, my friends, this story, this investigation not only has not finished. It has not in fact even yet started.
On 12 March, 2018 we sent a Note Verbale to the Foreign Office requesting to grant us access to the investigation data, including samples of a chemical compound, which the British investigation refers to, to be studied by specialists as part of a joint investigation. Thus, we were acting under paragraph 2, Article IX of the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Convention directs Member States, and I quote, to “… make every effort to clarify and resolve through exchange of information and consultations among themselves any matter which may cause doubt about compliance with this international treaty”. Based on the provisions of Article IX, the Russian Federation would have been ready to respond to an inquiry request by the UK within 10 days.
Instead, London delivered to us an absurd 24-hour ultimatum. Naturally, we rejected it. No one and under no circumstances may speak to Russia in a such a manner. This oral ultimatum from Boris Johnson to the Russian Ambassador in London stipulates: “The Foreign Secretary made clear… that there are only two possible scenarios. Either the Russian State has attempted murder on the British soil using a chemical weapon or Russia lost control of its stockpile of nerve agents. The Foreign Secretary asked the Russian Ambassador to explain which of the two possibilities was true and to account for how this Russian-produced nerve agent could have been deployed in Salisbury”.
And we were supposed to reply in 24 hours! These are all the “numerous questions” posed to us by the British side. They were the only ones. From what we know today and in the light of emerging additional information and declarations they seem to be even more absurd.
On 14 March 2018, Theresa May submitted to Mr. Üzümcü, Director-General of the OPCW Technical Secretariat, a proposal to conduct “an independent analysis of the outcomes of the British investigation” of the Salisbury incident. At the same time, our UK colleagues ignore that while acting within the framework of the CWC – what we deem to be the only right way – they have not only rights but also obligations, including towards us as a full-fledged State Party. And we unequivocally reminded about that fact during the extraordinary meeting of the OPCW Executive Council convened yesterday at our request. We tabled a draft decision on a joint investigation. It was blocked by the UK and its allies and they immediately claimed such a situation as a “victory”, although the number of votes “for” and abstentions were more than the votes “against”. It is perfectly understandable: why does the UK need a joint investigation if the culprit was identified even before any investigation? Such kind of an investigation could ruin their “well-composed version” based on such “irrefutable arguments” as “highly likely”, “overwhelming likely”, “highly plausible”, “there is almost no doubt”, “Russia was almost certainly to blame”, “high likelihood of Russian responsibility”, “Russia is the likely perpetrator”, “there is no other plausible explanation”.
Boris Johnson continues to convince everyone that the British side supposedly has a list of questions to Russia that were never answered. It’s quite the opposite. As I told you, there has never been any such list addressed to us. I appeal to the UK: if these questions exist – please present them. But please note that the accusation in the form of ultimatum that was brought against us and a demand “to confess to a crime” will not count as questions.
On our part, we have a lot of questions to London, to the OPCW, as well as to France that suddenly, basing on unknown to us provisions of the CWC, rushed to help certify the results of the British “express-investigation”. As a reply to our request the French side told us that the UK had informed France in detail about its investigation. Since London refuses to disclose any information maybe Paris will share it with us?
I will not bore you with all the technical details. Today we have circulated a relevant Aide Memoire that you can study properly. We will also distribute some comments by the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry. It contains some pretty intriguing information. I believe you will be very interested to learn it. And we will also send you this statement translated into English.
The intellectual level of backing up the accusations made and of searching for Russia’s motives does not even merit a smile.
Boris Johnson, who is permanently swearing his allegiance to Russophilia, has voiced out an absurd – this is the most delicate word I could use – absurd and immoral assumption that Moscow needed this incident to consolidate people in the run-up to the Presidential elections! Equally immoral is his comparison of the upcoming World Soccer Cup in Russia with the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936, which, by the way, unlike the Soviet Union, were attended by a representative delegation from Great Britain, including high-ranking officials.
Boris Johnson referred to the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky “Crime and Punishment” where the whole intrigue supposedly revolves around whether the criminal pleads guilty or will he after all be caught. Actually the novel is not really about that. This is not a detective story, as the British Foreign Secretary apparently thinks, but a deep philosophical work. By the way, we have already previously quoted an English proverb from this novel about a hundred rabbits from which you cannot make a horse. My humble advice to Mr. Johnson would be to read other novels by Dostoevsky too.
As “substantiated” proof of Russia’s guilt, the British ambassador in Moscow showed his colleagues this six-page slide show, including the cover page. These comics are passed for an evidential base! Again, they contain nothing but “highly likely”. One should assume that a similar “irrefutable document” was demonstrated by Theresa May to her EU colleagues, many of whom (not all, to their merit) took this as “hard evidence of Russia's guilt”. Look at this disgrace! We will now distribute it to you. To argue with these “hexagons” is an insult to mind and reason. How you must disrespect those whom you try to convince with this? With this! And those who were so to say “convinced”, don’t they understand that they were being brainwashed and participated in a collective psychosis?
Boris Johnson’s revelations about “the dead cat on the table” as a maneuver for distracting from other problems (if someone does not know what I am referring to, just read his interview) most vividly characterize those methods of no-rules propaganda warfare that Britain is now waging against Russia.
By the way, regarding dead cats. There were two cats and two Guinea pigs in the allegedly contaminated Skripal’s house in Salisbury. Where are they now? What has happened to the animals? Why nobody speaks about them? One should not forget that their condition is also a very important evidence.
We live in a time of collective debilitation of common sense. I do not know which exactly psychotropic agents are used to brainwash the general public. Except for one – the media. This is a horrific weapon of our times. Through the media one can manipulate a human mind. And we clearly see how Western media is excelling in this. No advanced intellectual algorithms are needed. It is enough to invoke the very basic reflexes by regularly and purposely repeating the same unsubstantiated lie, gradually implanting it into consciousness and presenting it as an ultimate truth. Exactly according to the recipe discovered by Dr. Goebbels: a lie repeated a thousand times becomes a truth.
We will be pressing you for answers to the questions we posed. And if you do not give them, if you do not answer, we will consider it as acknowledgement of the slander you spattered at us, without even giving any thought to the implications.
We will be seeking your genuine cooperation on the Skipals’ case. And if you refuse, this shall be considered as an attempt to conceal the truth.
All these developments convince us of something that was obvious from day one. This is a coordinated and well orchestrated campaign. It comes as no coincidence. And the main goal is very clear. It is to discredit and even to delegitimize Russia. To accuse it of using a horrible inhumane weapon. Of hiding its arsenals. Of violating the CWC. To question Russia’s role not only in the Syrian settlement, but wherever else. To question its political legitimacy in principle. At the same time to discredit our position on the Syrian chemical dossier. All in all, nice mix of business with pleasure.
If the British authorities without a moment’s hesitation dare to claim that Russia is «highly likely» behind the incident in Salisbury, we can also assume that intelligence services of certain countries were «highly likely» behind this mega-provocation.
Russia has nothing to do with the poisoning of the Skripals. It is more than anyone interested to establish the truth. We are going to seek the truth on the basis of the provisions of the CWC.
If the British side continues to operate with suspicions presented as evidence, if it continues to rely on assumptions based on speculation rather than facts, this will confirm our more than “highly probable assumption” that all this entirely murky case is fiction and to be more precise – a brazen provocation.
He, who has ears to hear, let him hear.
We believe that the only way to ascertain the objective picture is through strict compliance with the CWC mechanisms. We are also waiting for the British criminal investigation to provide answers to the obvious questions. We demand consular access to Yulia Skripal.
Summing up, what do we have at our disposal? There is no proof that the origin of the substance in question is Russia. We repeatedly denied our involvement but still face demands to acknowledge our culpability. The UK declines to cooperate with us under the pretext that “the victim can’t cooperate with the perpetrator”. But come on! Your designating us as “criminals” without any facts, proof, trial or judgment makes it null and void. But the fact is – that our citizens became objects of a crime or maybe a terrorist act on the British soil. And it is them who are victims! Therefore, we have every right to seek cooperation and the UK has to engage with us. By the way, it is noteworthy that yesterday during the session of the OPCW Executive Committee some UK allies urged us to cooperate with the British side. It seems that they had not been properly debriefed “in a right way”.
We have drafted a Security Council press statement. This is a litmus test for the sincerity of Great Britain and its allies. If you kill this press statement, like you did last time, by turning its meaning upside down, then it will become yet another confirmation and proof of your unscrupulous games.
I thank you for your attention!
Unfortunately, today we didn’t hear anything new from some of our colleagues who continue to claim without any hesitation and remorse that Russia is culpable. They urge us to shed the light on this incident. We would also very much like to discover the truth.
We hope that as long as we move on, more and more “shoots of truth” will find their way up to the light. I was going to thank my Dutch colleague who was insisting today on our cooperation with the British side but I’d better refrain from this because what he meant by this proposal in terms of cooperation differs from what we understand as cooperation.
In essence we are being demanded to answer only one question: “Admit that you did it!” We reply: “We did not do it”. But they say to this: “No, this is not enough! How did you do it?” We reply: “Give us the proof”. Then they say to us: “No, first you admit your guilt. This would be better to everyone”.
Don’t you all understand that this resembles a certain theater of the absurd?
We repeatedly pointed out that the United Kingdom hadn’t followed OPCW rules and procedures. You can read about it in our Aide Memoire that we have just distributed.
I have to note that today British Ambassador expressed readiness to share with member states information about the course of the investigation. We are looking forward to it. However, we would like to believe that the information that will be provided to us would be based on some more convincing materials than those that I demonstrated to you today. By the way, we were quite amused by the explanation by distinguished Permanent Representative of Great Britain on the implications and legal peculiarities of the usage of the term “highly likely” in the context of British justice. We will take a good note of this.
In fact there is nothing new in this world. There used to be a wonderful author of child novels, Lewis Carroll. He was mathematician who wrote books as kind of hobby. So he composed a marvelous book called “Alice in Wonderland”. I would like to read aloud a short extract from this book featuring court procedures against the Knave.
“There's more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty,' said the White Rabbit, jumping up in a great hurry; `this paper has just been picked up.'
`What's in it?' said the Queen.
`I haven't opened it yet,' said the White Rabbit, `but it seems to be a letter, written by the prisoner to--to somebody.'
`It must have been that,' said the King, `unless it was written to nobody, which isn't usual, you know.'
`Who is it directed to?' said one of the jurymen.
`It isn't directed at all,' said the White Rabbit; `in fact, there's nothing written on the outside.'
`Are they in the prisoner's handwriting?' asked another of they jurymen.
`No, they're not,' said the White Rabbit, `and that's the queerest thing about it.' (The jury all looked puzzled.)
`He must have imitated somebody else's hand,' said the King. (The jury all brightened up again.)
`Please your Majesty,' said the Knave, `I didn't write it, and they can't prove I did: there's no name signed at the end.'
`If you didn't sign it,' said the King, `that only makes the matter worse. You must have meant some mischief, or else you'd have signed your name like an honest man.'
There was a general clapping of hands at this: it was the first really clever thing the King had said that day.
`That's the most important piece of evidence we've heard yet,' said the King, rubbing his hands.
`Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
`No, no!' said the Queen. `Sentence first--verdict afterwards.'”
Doesn’t it remind you of something, Mr. President? But if you think that this concerns only fairytales from the last century (very relevant by the way) I will demonstrate to you one more thing. It is an article from today’s “Independent” which is called “Whether we can prove Moscow involvement in the “Skripal case” or not is irrelevant”. One more short quotation: “The Russian response to all of this is to say “Prove it” as if in a court of a law. Even on a legal test such as being beyond reasonable doubt or on the balance of probabilities the Russians are plainly culpable”.
Mr. President, I rest my case.