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By John Helmer, Moscow

Imagine an investigation for attempted homicide by gunshot without the gun, bullet, ballistics match, fingerprints, powder burns, witnesses, shooter, intention, motive.  You can’t imagine? Neither could the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian.

On Wednesday Le Drian announced France’s “full confidence in the investigations that our British partners are carrying out” on the March 4 nerve agent incident involving Sergei and Yulia Skripal and a local police detective in Salisbury.

Note Le Drian’s use of the present continuous tense. The French minister meant one doesn’t have to be British to play Sherlock Holmes —  investigation of evidence should precede judgement. As of Wednesday, the French minister didn’t think the investigation was conclusive.

The spokesman for the French presidency, Benjamin Griveaux, expressed less than “full confidence” in the British investigations.  “We don’t do fantasy politics. Once the elements are proven, then the time will come for decisions to be made.” He added that France was waiting on the British for  “definitive conclusions” and the evidence that the “facts were completely true”. For an English translation, click. That was Wednesday.

On Thursday French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the US White House decided Prime Minister Theresa May should be rescued from putting her political judgement before the forensic evidence. They issued a four-paragraph statement; read it in full here

Left to right: Chancellor Merkel; Prime Minister May; President Macron.

The first two paragraphs from the Big Four drew no conclusion from the evidence of what has happened to the Skripals.   The third paragraph acknowledged it had been May and her government which have drawn the conclusion that it is “highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack. We share the United Kingdom’s assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation.”

France, Germany, the US and the UK concluded with a paragraph calling on Russia to do what the government in Moscow has already called for in its own statements on the Skripal case:  let the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) investigate the British allegations, inspect the evidence  and the Russian assessment,  according to the international rules and procedures of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CVC). For good measure, and to show on whose side the Big Four stand, they ordered “Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the U.N. Security Council to uphold international peace and security.”

Having accepted May’s request that she should be backed against French diffidence and criticism from the British Labor Party, as well as by the Russians,  the US Treasury issued new sanctions. In fact, all the companies and individuals targeted for the cyber sanctions were indicted on criminal charges a month ago; they already face arrest if they enter the US, or extradition if they are on the territory of a US ally. For details of the indictment, read this.   The other US sanctions target the Russian Federal Security Service and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU), plus six senior GRU officers. Four of them, including GRU’s chief, Colonel-General Igor Korobov (right),  were proscribed in a US Treasury sanctions list of last December. The US government ignored the sanctions to invite Korobov and other Russian intelligence chiefs to Washington in January.

Through a former officer now a Moscow journalist, GRU has leaked an informal report of the espionage for which Skripal was tried and imprisoned. The report suggests that Skripal, a specialist in explosives and mine detection during his military career, may have been handling the nerve agent in a business deal which by accident went wrong.  Read the GRU version (in Russian) here.

May’s version of the Skripal case is accepted by a significant majority of British voters polled this week, according to this report. May has also gained significantly in voter approval compared to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labor leader, whose political rating has been running ahead of May’s until now. Before the Skripal news, the British polls were indicating a slight improvement for May and the Conservative Party, but the percentage trends were small and within the margin for statistical error.

For a discussion with Chris Cook, listen to today’s interview on Gorilla Radio from Victoria, British Columbia, starting at Minute 34.

Gorilla Radio is broadcast every Thursday by Chris Cook on CFUV 101.9 FM from the University of Victoria.  The radio station can be heard here. The Gorilla Radio transcripts are also published by the Pacific Free Press. For Chris Cook’s broadcast archive, click to open.    


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