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Russia calls U.K. nerve agent attack a 'grotesque provocation' by Britain, U.S.

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Soldiers wearing protective gear remove a vehicle that may have been contaminated with nerve agent from Salisbury, Britain, in this March 11 photo. On Wednesday, the head of Russia's intelligence agency said the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was 'crudely concocted by U.S. and British security services.' (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The Kremlin said today that the March 4 nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, was a "grotesque provocation crudely concocted by U.S. and British security services"
  • Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques sits down with CBC's Ian Hanomansing to talk about the training for his November trip to the International Space Station
  • Mumbai has more than 100,000 stray dogs, and a persistent rabies problem that has killed three people in the past month
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Implausible deniability

Russia's war of words with the West over the nerve agent poisoning of a former spy hit new levels today, as the Kremlin proclaimed itself the victim rather than the perpetrator.

The March 4 attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in the town of Salisbury, England, was a "grotesque provocation crudely concocted by U.S. and British security services," Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia's foreign intelligence agency, told reporters in Moscow.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are seen in a composite photo. They were poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury, Britain, on March 4. (Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)
Western governments are trying to erect a "new Iron Curtain," he said, and are using "unprecedented hypocrisy to justify their hegemony."

Naryshkin went on to draw some literary comparisons, invoking the witches from Macbeth, and quoting from George Orwell's 1984: "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength."

The Russian government has clearly been emboldened by an admission by a top U.K. scientist yesterday that the novichok nerve agent used in the attack can't be definitely linked to Russia.

Sergei Naryshkin, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, addresses the Conference on International Security in Moscow on Wednesday. He said the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was a 'grotesque provocation' masterminded by the U.S. and Britain. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)
Today, Russia called for a joint inquiry to find out who was really behind the poisoning of Skripal, a former Colonel with Russian military intelligence who became a British double-agent.

Its embassy in London continued to mock and question Theresa May's government, pointing out that a U.K. Foreign Office tweet saying the nerve agent had been "made in Russia" has now been quietly deleted.

Russia also called an emergency meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague today, in order to press the U.K. to share the results of its investigation.

The stormy session saw John Foggo, Britain's acting representative, brand the Russian bid as "perverse."

He told the chemical weapons watchdog that the U.K. has every reason to believe the Kremlin is behind the attack, including its past history of targeting defectors, and the knowledge that Russia has produced novichok "and remains capable of doing so."

The OPCW will soon release the results of its own laboratory tests, and could dispatch chemical weapons inspectors to Russia for further investigation.

A police officer in a gas mask works in The Mill public house in the Salisbury city centre on Wednesday, near where former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)
Meanwhile, Russian diplomats are warning soccer fans who are planning to travel to London for Thursday's CSKA Moscow vs. Arsenal Europa League quarter-final match to be on their best behaviour.

"To avoid provocation towards Russian citizens we are calling on fans to avoid conflicts with authorities and local residents, and to behave yourself with our inherent dignity," says a statement on the embassy website.

Army officers in protective gear remove the bench where Sergi Skripal and his daughter were found. (Will Oliver/EPA-EFE)
In February, German police arrested a fan of another Russian club, Spartak Moscow, at the Munich Airport, bringing an end to a two year manhunt.

The 31-year-old was wanted on an Interpol warrant for the "attempted homicide" of a British fan in Marseille, France, where Russia was playing England in their opening match of the Euro 2016 tournament.

The victim, Andrew Bache, was left paralyzed on his left side after being hit in the head with an iron bar.

Ian Hanomansing on assignment: The right stuff

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, centre, is helped into his space suit by Jeremy Hansen, left, and NASA engineers. He is training at a NASA facility in Houston, Texas, for his first mission to the International Space Station in November this year. (Jennifer Barr/CBC)

Let me start with an unusual personal disclosure: I'm not one of the people in the newsroom who can recite by name every major space mission or storied astronaut. There are a lot of reporters enchanted by rocket science. To me, it's just another story topic.

So when I was assigned to go to the Johnson Space Center in Houston to meet Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and watch him training for his deployment to the International Space Station, I was curious about what would impress me the most.

During three days of extraordinary access, I stood next to exact replicas of portions of the Space Station. I watched Saint-Jacques work in a simulated weightless environment. I saw him practice using a virtual reality program to prepare him to control the Canadarm.

But most impressive? I met and watched someone who has quietly pursued excellence on a level we rarely see.

I have been privileged to meet elite athletes and artists. I've interviewed people who have Nobel Prizes or made important scientific breakthroughs. All of them are remarkable in their own way.

David Saint-Jacques was an astrophysicist. He got his commercial pilot's licence. He went to medical school and became a doctor. He's also a husband and father. And now he's an astronaut.

I wish I had met people like him when I was in university. Not to be motivated to go to space or stay in school - just to see an unusual path to excellence that included following not one, but a series of dreams.

It's very inspiring and I hope that after tonight's broadcast at least a few students feel the same way.

- Ian Hanomansing

Watch for Ian's full report on The National tonight on CBC television and streamed online.

In the meantime, here's a short preview of David Saint-Jacques talking about the challenges of his training and why excelling is not just important, but a matter of survival:

Training Canada's next ISS astronaut

4 years ago
Duration 0:44
David Saint-Jacques talks about how he constantly challenges himself in the training for his November mission to the International Space Station. Survival in space means getting every single detail right, he says 0:44

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Where dog bites are deadly

Mumbai has a population of 22 million people, and somewhere in excess of 100,000 stray dogs.

Many are fed by big-hearted locals. Others eat garbage in the city's slums.

But the small acts of kindness, or neglect, make little difference to a big underlying health problem: some of the dogs have rabies, and they bite.

A girl guards her food from a stray dog in Mumbai. According to the World Health Organization, about one-third of global rabies fatalities occur in India, and most of the victims are children. (Adeel Halim/Reuters)
Over the past four weeks, three residents of the city have died from the disease. The latest is a 22-month-old boy who succumbed to the infection on April 1.

Rabies is almost non-existent among North America's pampered and vaccinated canines. But it's endemic to dog-loving India, where an estimated 30 million strays wander the streets, fields and laneways.

Officially, there were 86 rabies deaths in India in 2016, a 30 per cent drop from the 125 recorded in 2014.

But the World Health Organization, and India's National Centre for Disease Control, estimate that the actual number of deaths is closer to 20,000 annually, mostly in poor, rural areas where the illness goes untreated and unreported.

A dog sleeps under a chair as commuters pass by at Church Gate railway station in Mumbai. The city's stray dog population is estimated at more than 100,000. (Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters)
That would mean India is responsible for about one-third of global rabies fatalities — and most of the victims are children.

There are two forms of rabies -- a paralytic version, where the virus travels to the brain via the motor nerves, and so-called "furious rabies," which takes the path of the spinal cord. Both can kill within days, and by the time the symptoms — fever, agitation, hydrophobia — manifest, it is usually too late.

Dogs are responsible for 97 per cent all human rabies cases in India, with cats, monkeys and mongoose making up the remaining three per cent.

The country's National Rabies Control Program calls for the mass vaccination of pets and strays, as well as population tracking and "management." Most of the heavy lifting, however, has been left to local governments or charities.

A woman gets her dog vaccinated at a public clinic in Hyderabad, India. The country’s National Rabies Control Program calls for the mass vaccination of pets and strays. (Mahesh Kumar/Associated Press)
In Mumbai, the ResQ Charitable Trust, a local NGO, has started its own vaccination program. It fits each dog it treats with a colour-coded collar that indicates when the animal will be due for its three-year booster. The group has vaccinated more than 4,200 strays since the beginning of the year, and has also been busy neutering and spaying in order to control the population.

All of which is a step in the right direction, but a long way from a solution.

The best advice for those who suffer dog bites is to wash the wound immediately with soap and water, and then seek a rabies shot. But in Mumbai — India's largest city — there are no rabies diagnosis facilities, and only two hospitals that will treat suspected patients.

And sometimes, doctors simply run out of the vaccine.

Quote of the moment

"We have a very good nation but we can, in fact, create a great nation. Dad showed us it only takes a few good women and men to bring about change."

- Martin Luther King III, reflecting on his father's legacy 50 years after he was assassinated on a Memphis hotel balcony.

Here's how the CBC announced the news of the shooting.

Martin Luther King III, the son of Martin Luther King Jr., attends the 'Mountaintop Speech' commemoration Tuesday in Memphis at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ where his father delivered his 'Mountaintop' speech on the eve of his assassination. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

What The National is reading

  • Did a serial killer stalk Toronto's Gay Village in the 1970s? (CBC)
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  • Suspected YouTube shooter 'hated' the company, says father (CBC)
  • DNA test shows woman's real father was her parents' fertility doc (Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Canadian 9/11 conspiracy theorists sue Google (National Post)
  • 'Nightmare bacteria' cases seen in 27 U.S. states, CDC reports (Fox News)
  • World's first cloned cashmere goat becomes a father (South China Morning Post)
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg warned to stop impersonating Beano character (Politico EU)

Today in history

April 4, 1976: Will Toronto ever get a baseball franchise?

The $15 million expansion to Exhibition Stadium was almost finished in the spring of 1976, but Toronto was somehow further away from getting a Major League Baseball team. A January deal that year to purchase the San Francisco Giants was nixed by the courts. And a promised American League expansion franchise was suddenly looking iffy after President Gerald Ford let it be known that Washington, D.C., should be first in line. The White House meddling didn't work. The Blue Jays took the field for the first time on April 7, 1977. And Washington had to wait 28 more years for its team, until the Expos moved on the eve of the 2005 season.

Will Toronto ever get a baseball franchise?

46 years ago
Duration 2:02
Just when it looks like Toronto is going to get an American League franchise, U.S. President Gerald Ford gets in the way. 2:02

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.