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Gessen writes: "The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental authority, has confirmed that the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were hospitalized in England last month, were poisoned with Novichok, a Russian-made nerve agent."

Investigators gather evidence in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in Salisbury, England. (photo: i-Images/eyevine/Redux)
Investigators gather evidence in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in Salisbury, England. (photo: i-Images/eyevine/Redux)

Under Russian Terror, All Exiles Are Fearful and All Deaths Are Suspicious

By Masha Gessen, The New Yorker

14 April 18


he Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental authority, has confirmed that the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were hospitalized in England last month, were poisoned with Novichok, a Russian-made nerve agent. What’s more, the form of the gas was pure enough to suggest that it was deployed by a state actor. “They practically wrote that it was Russia,” an anchor on a Russian state-television news show concluded. “Though, of course, it’s not so.”

The official Russian line on the poisonings is that they were set up—presumably by the British government—in order to frame Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry has issued a series of denials and counter-accusations, and, on Monday, the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, addressing Russian diplomats who have been expelled by different Western countries, called the entire affair an “unprecedented provocation.” The Russian media, for their part, have aired endless, daily reports on the Skripals, methodically casting doubt on every aspect of the story. Why are the Skripals recovering? journalists ask, implying that if the father and daughter had really been poisoned by Russian-made nerve gas, they would be good and dead. Why do their voices sound so strong? Why did they turn off location services on their cell phones on the day of the poisoning? Why hasn’t Yulia returned to Russia?

The practice of committing—or in this case, attempting—blatant murder and following it with a series of equally blatant denials is nearly as old as Soviet state terror. During the Great Terror of 1937–38, the secret police killed thousands of people every day, but hid this fact from the victims’ families. Soviet terror abroad worked similarly, if more selectively. The Soviets killed defectors, such as Georgy Agabekov, a rogue secret-police officer who was assassinated in Paris, in 1938, eight years after he defected to the West. This was legal under a 1927 Soviet law that made defection punishable by execution. But they also killed suspected traitors, such as the American Communist Juliet Stuart Poyntz, who disappeared in New York City, in 1937. And, most famously, they killed Leon Trotsky, the out-of-favor revolutionary who was banished from the Soviet Union, in 1929, and killed in Mexico City, in 1940.

Ramón Mercader, who killed Trotsky with an ice axe, denied any connection to the U.S.S.R.—he claimed that he killed Trotsky over a woman. But, once he completed his twenty-year sentence in Mexico, he moved to the Soviet Union, where he was promptly awarded Hero of the U.S.S.R., the highest military honor. Mercader lived out his days in Cuba but is buried in Moscow, with a pseudonym on his gravestone.

Soviet media denounced the dead Trotsky, just as it had denounced him when he was alive, as an enemy not only of the Soviet state but of all the world’s working classes. Three decades later, an entirely new generation of exiles—dissidents who were expelled from the U.S.S.R. or who escaped its satellites—were denounced in only slightly milder terms. Some of them were also killed. In 1978, the Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov was murdered with a poisoned umbrella, in London. (Earlier, more conventional attempts to poison Markov had failed.) In 1981, a terrorist cell operating out of East Germany detonated a bomb at the Munich headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; no one was killed. These high-profile attacks, combined with the continued vitriol of Soviet media, made murder a credible threat for Soviet exiles. Every accident, and every heart attack, began to look suspicious. When the exiled writer Andrei Amalrik died, in a car accident, in Spain, on his way to a human-rights conference, many observers in the U.S.S.R. and abroad were convinced that he had been murdered, although people who shared the ride with him said that he had been tired and lost control of the car. When the exiled singer-songwriter Alexander Galich died, from electrocution, while setting up a new stereo system in his Paris apartment, in 1977, the dissident community split among similar lines.

A generation later, when the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky was found dead in his house in London, in 2013, his large circle of friends and acquaintances split into two irreconcilable camps: those who believed that Berezovsky committed suicide, and those who were convinced that he was killed by Russians. In Berezovsky’s case, one might argue, it was a distinction without a difference: the former Kremlin kingmaker had been hounded by Russian agents for years, and Scotland Yard had foiled assassination attempts against him. One of his closest allies, the former Russian secret-police agent Alexander Litvinenko, had been killed by polonium poisoning, in London, in 2006. It took nearly ten years for an official inquest to place the blame on the Kremlin. Now probable culpability for the attempted murder of the Skripals has been assigned much faster.

To Russians living—and dying—abroad, especially in the United Kingdom, any number of other deaths appear suspicious. A BuzzFeed report last year identified fourteen deaths that might have been hits. After the Skripal poisoning, another high-profile Russian from Berezovsky’s circle was found dead, in London, and his death was quickly ruled a homicide.

In addition to the many recent deaths that remain mysterious, some of the deaths from the seventies and eighties continue to ignite debate. When, one day, late-Soviet and Russian secret-police records can be examined, it will likely emerge that some presumed murders were, in fact, accidents, and some apparent accidents might have been murders. But, in the uninterrupted logic of terror, the facts matter less than the fear. Hundreds of the Kremlin’s active opponents have left Russia in the last six years, moving the intellectual center of the opposition abroad, much as it happened in the seventies. In London, New York, and the Baltic republics, they continue to meet, organize, and plan a post-Putin future; in fact, the former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who moved to New York five years ago, chaired this week the Forum for a Free Russia, the fifth such gathering he has organized, in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Every person at the gathering, and scores of other Russian activists who are not there, have watched the unfolding Skripal investigation and wondered, at least occasionally, if they might not be next. your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

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+6 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-14 13:52
The first paragraph of this essay is totally false. The OPCW did not say the poison was Novichok. Theresa May and Boris Johnson said what Gessen repeats. In fact, the OPCW said that the poison was BZ and definitely made in either the UK or US.

If the poison were a military grade Novichok, the Skripals would have died in a minute or so. Instead contacted the poison on a door knob, took a bus into town, ate lunch at a restaurant, and then later passed out in a park. There was close to 4 hours between contact and collapse. And they have recovered now.

The New Yorker needs editors and fact checkers.

There is no point in believing anything an author writes when she begins with falsehoods that were told by partisans -- May and Johnson -- four weeks ago and have been corrected more recently.
-4 # draypoker 2018-04-15 07:32
I don't doubt that the episode 20 miles from my house was conducted by Russians. Despite your constant propaganda for Putin all the evidence points towards Russia.
-4 # ericlipps 2018-04-15 10:46
I await with bated breath your post claiming Hillary Clinton did it.
+3 # punch 2018-04-15 12:34
In fact, you're the one who's lying, proving yourself to be completely untrustworthy. The OPCW did not say that it was BZ. And nobody said it was "definitely made in either the UK or US". The OPCW said it confirmed "the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical". The one who said it had TRACES of BZ was Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. He claimed to have evidence for this, but has not made this evidence public.

So to sum up the facts:
The UK said the nerve agent was Novichok.
The OPCW said it confirmed the findings of the UK, and that the chemical was of high purity.
Lavrov said that he has evidence that the nerve agent was Novichok with traces of BZ.

That's all we know.
+2 # DudeistPriest 2018-04-15 14:31
Quoting Rodion Raskolnikov:
The first paragraph of this essay is totally false. The OPCW did not say the poison was Novichok. Theresa May and Boris Johnson said what Gessen repeats. In fact, the OPCW said that the poison was BZ and definitely made in either the UK or US.

Actually your first paragraph is totally false. What happened was:
[A] detailed and fairly substantial confidential version of the report was distributed to the OPCW members only. In that report only the chemical composition of the agent presented by the British was confirmed. The analysis of samples, as the report states, was taken by the OPCW experts themselves. It contains no names, Novichok or any other. The report only gives the chemical formula, which, according to our experts, points to an agent that had been developed in many countries and does not present any particular secret.

After receiving that report Russia was tipped off by the Spiez Laboratory or someone else that the OPCW report did not include the full results of its analysis.

According to Lavrov this is what the Spiez Laboratory originally sent to the OPCW:

“Following our analysis, the samples indicate traces of the toxic chemical BZ and its precursor which are second category chemical weapons. BZ is a nerve toxic agent, which temporarily disables a person.

+2 # DudeistPriest 2018-04-15 14:33
The psycho toxic effect is achieved within 30 to 60 minutes after its use and lasts for up to four days. This composition was in operational service in the armies of the US, the UK and other NATO countries. The Soviet Union and Russia neither designed nor stored such chemical agents. Also, the samples indicate the presence of type A-234 nerve agent in its virgin state and also products of its degradation.”
The "presence of type A-234 nerve agent", an agent of the so called 'Novichok' series, in its "virgin state", or as the OPCW stated in "high purity", points to later addition to the sample. The 'Novichok' agents are not stable. They tend to fall rapidly apart. Their presence in "virgin state" in a sample which was taken 15 days after the Skripal incident happened is inexplicable. A scientist of the former Russian chemical weapon program who worked with similar agents, Leonid Rink, says that if the Skripals had really been exposed to such high purity A-234 nerve agent, they would be dead.

Thanks to Moon of Alabama
0 # laborequalswealth 2018-04-17 16:54
Thank you! You saved me the trouble of reciting point by point what a total piece of bull puck this article is.
+7 # lfeuille 2018-04-14 18:24
I don't buy it. I think this organization was chosen to investigate because of it's anti-Russian bias.
+3 # itchyvet 2018-04-15 01:32
Recently an article was printed and released stating that Bolton the newly appointed right hand man for Trump, threatened the President of the O.P.C.W. by telling him he knew where his wife and family were, unless he resigned his position on the board. The man refused to resign so Bolton set the stage to have him voted out, which they did. Now the O.P.C.W. is totally controlled from Washington making any releases from that group illegitimate and biased.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-15 09:04
Yes, this is true. The OPCW will not officially release a report that does not conform to the demand of the US regime. This has happened over and over. Generally the way it works is that there is an "executive summary" of a page or two and then the full report which is much longer. The US regime writes the executive summary and it tells the story the US wants to get out. Journalists only read the executive summary.

The full report is actually good and truthful. Often it directly contradicts the executive summary. But no one in the public propaganda mills of American media ever read the full report. I worked at the UN for a while and I saw this happen over and over to UN reports. I read the full report and what I saw in the NYTimes was only a summary of the executive summary.
+2 # DudeistPriest 2018-04-15 14:34
+10 # PABLO DIABLO 2018-04-14 19:55
What do the Skripal poisonings have to do with all the other deaths you cite? Guilt by association? NO PROOF the Russians did it.
+10 # Upgeya 2018-04-14 19:58
RT quotes Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to say the substance used on Sergei Skripal was an agent called BZ (3-Quinuclidiny l benzilate). He is quoted as citing the results of an examination conducted by the Swiss state Spiez lab, who apparently did chemical analysis of samples that London handed over to the Organization for the Prohibition of the Chemical Weapons (OPCW). Lavrov claims that the Swiss center sent the results to the OPCW, but the UN chemical watchdog limited itself only to confirming the formula of the substance used to poison the Skripals in its final report without mentioning anything about the other facts presented in the Swiss analysis. See the article here:
+2 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-15 09:01
Thanks for giving the details. Spiez lab is a OPCW accredited lab. Porton Down is also an OPCW accredited lab and it did not say what the poison was. It was misquoted several times by British government officials, however.
+7 # PCPrincess 2018-04-14 23:26
I'll also add my voice to those above that are not 'buying' the main-stream claim that 'Russia did it'. The facts are available for all to see. It was not Russia.
-4 # Salburger 2018-04-15 08:25
The Putin trolls and apologists are active here today The Trolls work for Putin, but why any real leftists would be apologists for this distinctly capitalist authoritarian oligarchical regime is beyond me.
+7 # Benign Observer 2018-04-15 09:44
Those who care about justice are more interested in the truth than those who are following an agenda .. a transparent and lucrative agenda.

Trump had just said he wanted to leave Syria -- so Putin and Assad decide it's a great time to gas citizens? Not buying it.

Just like the Salisbury poisonings -- a week before Putin's election?

And the pundits and military telling us we had to act fast without thinking before any investigation was carried out.

Why? What's the rush? Like we're all going to forget what it's about in the time it takes lab results to come back? Or because we want to destroy evidence and get WW3 started before people come to their senses?

Any sane person wants to delay violence, use it only as a last resort. But that's not what we're seeing from the Pentagon, the media, the Democrats or the Israelis, is it?

Why leftists would be apologists for genocide and spooks is beyond me -- but there you go.
+3 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2018-04-15 08:59
It is interesting to note the hazmat clothing worn by the inspectors in the photo above. But in the videos put out by the White Helmets of the gas attack in Douma, Syria, the people are not wearing any hazmat clothing. The original claim was that the gas was Sarin, a nerve agent that is not as lethal as Novichock but still quite deadly. In the White Helmet videos the aid worker actors are all over contaminated children and they don't seem to be poisoned themselves.

I wonder how many people in the media actually look at the photos they publish? Do they connect any dots? Do they ask any questions.
+1 # Michaeljohn 2018-04-15 13:02
How old are you? Ever worked in toxic industrial environments about 50 years ago when no protective clothing was required or worn compared to OSHA rules today ... like metal plating workers putting hands and arms in cyanide plating baths?
Sarin and Chlorine gas dissipate fairly rapidly and any remaining residue on victim's skin or clothing is no worse than the overspray US agricultural workers receive from organophosphate insecticide sprays.
Oh yeah, and the White Hat guys don't get much funding for moon suits nor do they have the OSHA enforcers breathing down their necks.
+1 # DudeistPriest 2018-04-15 14:40
Brainwashed Amerikans asking questions? Don't be ridiculous! Even if they did the answers would be lies. Besides the media is designed to trigger emotions, not logic. Keep them pissed off over F*cking Moron, then you can feed them any BS and get away with anything.
+4 # Aliazer 2018-04-15 09:17
Russian Terror??? You got to be kidding!!

The only terror visited in the world today is by the U.S. and its willing CIA funded politicians in Europe and elsewhere!!
+2 # draypoker 2018-04-15 12:33
Quoting Aliazer:
Russian Terror??? You got to be kidding!!

The only terror visited in the world today is by the U.S. and its willing CIA funded politicians in Europe and elsewhere!!

No. There is a great deal of terror going on all over the planet. Russia has rejected Communism but not adopted democracy. Have they gained anything? I don't think so. Have we gained anything? I don't think so.

Communism in Russia was mainly a continuation of the Tsarist dictatorship - and in fact the Leninists cut off the possibility of evolution towards a democratic system, which might have occurred in 1917. Putin clearly opposes any form of democracy.

Can the US evolve? Yes, it has the possibility, despite the nasty president it has at present. Can Russia evolve? It looks less likely.
+1 # laborequalswealth 2018-04-18 10:05

None of our f-ing business. Ditto for Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, etc etc etc etc.

+1 # Michaeljohn 2018-04-15 13:21
Oh for God's sake; they all do it ... the US hides behind 'propagating democracy' and enriches its arms manufacturers with gifts of death and trains SA dictatorial death squads in the 'School for the Americas'. Russia has exported terror since the days of Lenin.
Letelier was assassinated in the US by an agent of Pinochet by a car bomb, although a perfume bottle of Sarin had been prepared for the deed and never used. North Korea's Kim Jong Un ordered the assassination of his brother. So how come Russia is now views as 'holier than thou' and above reproach in these activities?
0 # DudeistPriest 2018-04-15 14:47
Because in this particular case it appears to be untrue.
+1 # laborequalswealth 2018-04-18 10:03
Amen Amen Amen

The neocons pump up hysteria over TWO people allegedly being poisoned by the Russians, while over the last 17 years the USA has killed hundreds of thousands of human beings, either directly or indirectly, and caused the greatest refugee catastrophe since World War II.

And the RUSSIANS are the terrorists????? ?????
+3 # randrjwr 2018-04-15 15:00
I think Gessen has jumped to a conclusion here, apparently based upon incomplete information, possibly mixed with some bias. As RR points out (whether many people here like it or not, he is right), the time elapsed between the posited contact with chemical agent and the victims' collapses argues strongly against any phosphonate-bas ed chemical agent such as GA (tabun), GB (sarin), GD (soman) or VX or "Novichock." The finding of BZ as the cause is plausible since that agent is in the class of debilitating but not lethal agents. Who did it is still up for speculation, in my opinion. Just because BZ is/was in the UK and USA arsenals doesn't mean Russia could not have gotten it.

As for Gessen's pointing many of Russia's previous misdeeds, I think it is only fair to point out that the US CIA (and probably MI-6, too) embraced the concept of "plausible deniability" in the planning of their operations (e.g., the repeated ridiculous attempts to off Fidel Castro), and carried many egregious operations in foreign countries with whom we were not overtly at war at the time. That is how our relations with Iran got so screwed up starting in 1953, for a particularly significant example.

Aliazer is a bit over the top saying we are the only purveyors of terror, but we sure are a major player.
+1 # Verify 2018-04-15 16:59
The suggestion that the agent is BZ is laughable. BZ is actually a hallucinogen, developed by the Swiss firm Hoffman-LaRoche in 1951, which made a brief appearance on the hippie scene in San Francisco in around 1967-8. I went to a Doors concert at the Fillmore at that time, where Jim Morrison was quite out of control. and was told by a hippie chick there that he was on BZ. Who knows? He would take anything. At that time people were extremely naive. But in any case it quickly lost popularity when people found out that you stayed high for 3-4 days, guaranteeing a bad trip i.e. a psychotic episode.
For the same reason the Army found it useless, as a psychotic-schiz ophrenic opponent could still fire his weapon and would be difficult to control if captured.
According to this link on the effects,
it takes 4 hours to come on which bears no resemblance to the description of the London attack. It is incapacitating and not toxic. If you and Lavrov are going to invent propaganda please be more creatively convincing and have at least modicum of respect for our intelligence.
+2 # Verify 2018-04-15 17:14
I forgot to say: BZ was nicknamed "STP" by the hippies, and people
plastered STP stickers (from the gas additive company) on their cars
to be cool. I still have one someplace from back then. Fortunately I was too young and cautious to try it myself. The fad lasted a very short time as news of its dangers quickly spread in underground newspapers and by word of mouth.

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