Poisonings allegations in UK — due legal processes vital — UK interference in NZ governance

17 March 2018

Dear Prime Minister Ardern

We fully support Foreign Minister Winston Peters’ call for an urgent international investigation into the nerve-agent poisoning in the UK this month of former double agent Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia. We agree with you that “outrage at the brazen and callous use of chemical weapons in a UK town is fully justified.” However we also believe that in view of the seriousness of the offense and the claim of foreign responsibility the case should follow internationally accepted procedures through the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the international forum with the credibility and expertise to review and assess UK claims of an attack by another state.

Serious claims without evidence

We are surprised and alarmed by the accusations levelled at Russia by the UK on the basis of assertions without credible evidence. Mr Skripal had lived in Britain unharmed for several years, and his daughter Yulia was visiting from Russia and is a Russian citizen. Why has the UK government accused Russia publicly worldwide of this crime before holding a transparent and thorough investigation? This is the reverse of the values Britain claims as its own: good governance, the rule of law, and a judicial system that presumes innocence before good evidence shows otherwise.

Prime Minister May’s recent demand to Russia, with no evidence of their involvement in the attack, to respond to the allegations within 24 hours is bizarre. Moscow requested a sample of the alleged chemical agent as soon as allegations of its Soviet origins were made, but those requests were ignored by London. In contrast, Opposition leader Corbyn took a firm but reasoned approach “This horrific event demands first of all the most thorough and painstaking criminal investigation, conducted by our police and security services,” he said. “To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.”

The poisonings apparently took place in Salisbury, just 6 miles down the road from Porton Down where Britain has a major chemical weapons laboratory where nerve agents were made from the 1950s, including the highly toxic VX nerve agent. VX was used to poison the brother of North Korea’s Kim. Applying Britain’s attitude to Russia to this poisoning incident, why wasn’t Britain charged and pilloried for the poisoning death of Kim’s brother?

The nerve agent allegedly used in the Skripals’ poisoning is now named as NOVICHOK. This was originally produced in the Soviet Union decades ago. Many countries have for years known the ingredients. Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, responding this week to UK accusations at a UN meeting, said Novichok was discontinued in Russia, years ago but Uzbekistan had stocks that were researched by several Western countries years ago, some officials from other countries altered the toxin themselves. Russia has records of those involved in this. This appears to be useful evidence for any enquiry into the poisonings.

Interfering & threatening NZ governance

A further cause for alarm is the role the UK embassy is taking in New Zealand in issuing veiled threats to government through our media before credible evidence of their claims has been established. Britain’s diplomats have also even pressured the NZ government this week not to pursue better relations or trade links with Russia.

The reckless haste in Britain’s conduct of this affair brings to mind other false charges in recent times, such as Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” that led to the still ongoing war catastrophic war over a decade later. The British parliament itself in two reports in 2016 censured British authorities for causing chaos and disaster by rashly perpetrating wars in both Iraq and Libya based on false information. The undeniable aggression of the US-UK-led bombing wars has caused immense suffering in the Middle East with the destruction of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. Millions have been killed and millions have become refugees with the UK and US not accepting responsibility for the consequences of their asymmetrical bombing campaigns on defenceless civilians and illegal regime change operations. And still their wars continue.

The style and speed of the UK’s international campaign to blame Russia rather than take the more professional and credible route of an OPCW investigation, suggests Britain does not want the truth to come out, and prefers to demonise Russia in the court of public opinion. In this 20 minute interview Russian Ambassador to the UK Yakovenko puts the other side of the story on 16 March, 2018.

The British attitude to Russia over this is not only unfair and unjust, but risks expanding into a dangerous trend — the pressure to persuade other nations like New Zealand to follow the UK with its hasty and unsubstantiated charges, rather than pressing for a UN-sanctioned evidence-based deliberative process through the OPCW. This is our “nuclear-free” moment if we value our independence. We should support Corbyn’s call for a more measured approach in view of the doubts now being revealed in the public domain.

In summary

We support Mr Peter’s call for an investigation into the recent poisoning of Russian citizens in the UK through the internationally accepted procedures of the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). We would also like to see the UK High Commission cautioned for its attempts to influence the NZ public on the basis of its unproven, unsound allegations.

The Pacific Institute of Resource Management Inc (PIRM), established in Wellington in 1984, is dedicated to sustainable use of the Earth’s natural resources, and peace, equity and justice issues. We make submissions to government and publish the occasional journal Pacific Ecologist.

Yours sincerely

Kay Weir (Editor, Pacific Ecologist, pirmeditor@gmail.com)
Peter Barrett (President, The Pacific Institute of Resource Management)
PO Box 12125
Wellington
Phone 04 9394553