As It Happens

Nerve agent poisoning too sloppy to be Russia's work: Kremlin adviser

If Russian spies wanted to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, they would have done a better job of it, says an adviser to the Kremlin's foreign ministry.

Using Novichok on Sergei Skripal 'like leaving a Russian business card at the crime scene': Andrey Kortunov

Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal is shown during a court proceeding in Moscow in 2006. (Yuri Senatorov/Kommersant/AFP/Getty Images)

If Russian spies wanted to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, they would have done a better job of it, says an adviser to the Kremlin's foreign ministry.

Britain charged two alleged Russian military intelligence officers Wednesday with the nerve agent poisoning of ex-spy Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.

The men, who entered the U.K. under the names Alexander Petrov and Rusian Boshirov, are being charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok, prosecutors said.

Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers that British intelligence officials have concluded the attack "was not a rogue operation" and was almost certainly approved at a "senior level of the Russian state."

But Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann he doesn't buy it. 

Here is part of their conversation. 

How is this news playing out in Moscow tonight?

I think that this statement raises the conflict to a new level.

Basically [May] accuses the Russian state, if not personally [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.

And what do you think? Do you think that is likely true?

Frankly, my doubts are connected to the way in which the operation, quote-unquote, was conducted. Because the way these two suspects performed the so-called mission demonstrates a very low professional level. 

The mission was not accomplished. They left a lot of evidence behind.

Frankly, I'm a little bit confused. I always had a very high opinion of the Russian military intelligence and I would find it very strange to consider that they acted in such an unprofessional manner.

This combination photo made available by the Metropolitan Police on Wednesday shows Alexander Petrov, left, and Ruslan Boshirov. (Metropolitan Police via Associated Press)

What do you think these two men were doing in the U.K. if they were not deliberately trying to target Sergei Skripal and his daughter? They were very briefly in the country. They were traced to Salisbury. And they returned back out of the U.K. to Russia. 

I don't question the findings of the British investigation. I think that probably these two suspects were indeed the people who committed these crimes.

But I don't understand why the Russian intelligence should have solicited this mission, and if if did, why Russian intelligence officers failed this mission [in] such a miserable, explicitly miserable, way.

So had they succeeded and Mr. Skripal and his daughter had died along with the woman who unfortunately came across this toxic substance, you would believe it more likely?

I don't want to sound cynical. I think it's a real tragedy and whoever did it should pay the price. 

But I know, at least from ... James Bond movies, that there are so many other ways to eliminate a person if you really want to do that.

To use chemical weapons, especially after chemical weapons were used in the assassination of [former KGB spy Alexander] Litvinenko, it is like, you know, leaving a Russian business card at the crime scene or killing someone at Piccadilly Circus with a balalaika.

But couldn't that be the intention here? I mean, you're also spreading fear and potentially a warning to other enemies of the Kremlin, are you not, if you use such extreme measures?

I think that you have all the answers to the questions. Why are you asking me that?

That's what a lot of people are saying, that perhaps this was trying to send a message and that it's a more effective way to warn enemies of the Kremlin that they should behave themselves.

I'm not an intelligence officer. I don't know how they operate. But what I hear is that Mr. Skripal was exchanged many years ago. He was pardoned by President Putin. He was not a bearer of any secrets.

The usual practice of all intelligence services is that they do not go after renegades, especially after renegades served their sentences in their prisons. 

Members of the emergency services wearing protective clothing work near the bench where Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned in Salisbury on March 13. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Russia has called this news "information manipulation." There have even been suggestions from Moscow that Theresa May, I'm quoting, "invented Novichok." The continued denials, do they not further reinforce suspicions that Russia is not taking this seriously?

I think they do. I think the Russian tactic is the wrong one. And if I were to advise Mr. Putin, I would say, "No, the only way to prove that you are innocent is to find the real criminal. You should basically turn the country upside down, you should offer any collaboration which might be needed and you should find, you know, these bastards who did it."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?