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World chemical weapons watchdog meets over UK attack
The world's chemical weapons watchdog met on Wednesday, at Russia's request, to discuss Britain's allegations that Moscow was behind the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in the English city of Salisbury last month.
The Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) met a day after the boss of Britain's Porton Down defence laboratory said analysts had not identified the source of the agent but had established it was military-grade Novichok.
“We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to government, who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to," Gary Aitkenhead told Sky News TV.
“It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is, we identified that it is from this particular family and that it is a military grade, but it is not our job to say where it was manufactured," he added.
But pro-Kremlin media hailed the announcement as an admission that the chemical agent could not be traced back to Russia.
“Porton Down scientists CANNOT confirm nerve agent used on Skripals was made in Russia,” Russia Today trumpeted, while Sputnik declared “Porton Down lab unable to prove Novichok used to poison Skripal was from Russia.”
“It was seen as a vindication of the Russian position that Russia is not involved, that Russia has nothing to do with it, that Britain should apologise," says Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based political analyst. "Which, of course, it won’t and so this continues to be a part of the propaganda war.”
Harsh words in Moscow
At the Moscow Conference on International Security, although the main focus was on Syria, there were harsh words for the West.
“[Sergei] Narishkin, Director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Services and generals from the General Staff, have spoken about 'Western aggression'," Felgenhauer says.
They claim that the Nato military alliance is preparing for war with Russia and that Moscow is obliged to respond and warn that the situation in Europe is deteriorating rapidly.
The OPCW meeting in The Hague was held behind closed doors at the request of Russia's OPCW ambassador, Alexander Shulgin to discuss “allegations of non-compliance of the [chemical arms] convention [ ... ] with regard to the incident in Salisbury,” as he put it in a letter published on 29 March.
On 4 April the European Union put a letter on the OPCW website condemning what it called “the offensive use of [ ... ] military-grade nerve agent” and calling on Russia to “address the questions raised by the UK”.
It demanded “full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OCPW”.
The OPCW itself has not issued any statement and is unlikely to blame anyone, according to Jean-Paul Zanders, a consultant on chemical weapons and founder of The Trench, a website that monitors the use of chemical weapons.
“The politicians have created certain expectations which do not conform to reality, so this is a problem we have there," he comments.
"That this person in the laboratory made that type of comment doesn’t in the least surprise me. It is just like the same thing, the OPCW in The Hague will never attribute responsibility, they will give analytical data but they are not going to attribute responsibilities."