Leader comment: A former Russian spy with a vital story to tell
The recovery of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal means investigators should have a valuable source of information about the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
Even if he does not know exactly how the poison was delivered, he will at least have his own theories about who is responsible. And the outrage of the victims, particularly Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia, could add considerable weight in the battle for the hearts and minds of the international community.
The UK is, without a doubt, winning this particular war, even after some loose language from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about the work of Porton Down in identifying the Novichok nerve agent, which was quickly seized upon by Moscow. Despite being the chief suspect, Russia had sought to become part of a joint investigation into the attack with the UK. Thankfully, it lost a vote on this bizarre idea at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, although it was supported by China, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Algeria and Iran, a list of countries with poor to appalling human rights records.
The world’s liberal democracies, on the other hand, appear to be pretty solidly behind the UK. The reaction from the Kremlin has continued to be a mix of threats, comedy and attempts to sow confusion.
The Russian ambassador to the UN revealed he had told UK officials “you’re playing with fire and you’ll be sorry”. He also insisted Russia would not have used the “dangerous and highly public” method of nerve agent if it had wanted to kill someone; instead, he pointed to the “hundreds of clever ways of killing” people used in the TV series Midsomer Murders. Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy to the UK yesterday appeared to be trying to concoct a conspiracy theory about a cat and two guinea pigs owned by the Skripals. The guinea pigs starved to death in their house while it was sealed off by police, while the cat was found so dehydrated that it had to be put down. “Overall, it is difficult to avoid the impression that the animals have been disposed of as an inconvenient piece of evidence,” the Russian embassy claimed.
Russia has, for several years, been meddling in the affairs of other countries – attempting to influence elections, annexing part of Ukraine and now, almost certainly, the attempted murder of a former spy. At some point, the world’s liberal democracies will need to make clear this cannot continue.