by Tony Kevin
Tony Kevin’s summary responses to the MoA view that Yulia’s statement is suspect, because it was allegedly written under duress of some kind, and from a prepared English script translated into Russian.
There are at least two big questions here that need to be separately addressed. MoA and many of their correspondents segue from one to the other and back again , which is not conducive to a clear understanding and quickly leads one down unproductive, hypothetical blind alleys: leaving one in the end in a not useful position of general skepticism of everyone and everything involved in the Skripal affair.
One of the classic forms of deception in naval warfare is to hide what you are trying to hide by laying dummy targets behind a lot of smoke. This letter is an effort to clear away smoke and help to see the real targets more clearly.
The two big questions are:
- 1. What were the circumstances of Yulia’s videoed statement ? Was it made under duress, Stockholm Syndrome, or coached ? Was it even Julia at all, or a lookalike stand-in? In any case, does it matter what she said, now that it has been said and recorded ?
- 2. What were the Skripals poisoned with? Were they poisoned at all? Were they innocent victims , I.e. were they both, or was Sergei alone, complicit? Does the issue of alleged complicity matter now? Or is it just smoke?
Operating on Occam’s Razor, I try to pare my following analysis back to essential agreed or highly probable facts.
1. As to the poisoning substance used, first and foremost, I would rank Lavrov’s 14 April statement, based as he said on the best Russian scientific/medical analysis available to him of public video footage of the victims and of the leaked reports of the chemical analysis at Spiez of the Skripal samples, as very strong evidence – as almost certain evidence. The Russians would have had some kind of informant working in the OPCW system, as Lavrov admitted . Lavrov took a political decision to publicly reveal the Skripal analysis, and thereby risk exposing his source, because Russia considered it so important in their national interest to discredit the otherwise powerful British Novichuk lie.
He laid his own credibility on the line as Russian FM – and as a man who has no public record of ever lying – to point clearly to the most probable fact that the Skripals were poisoned with BZ and could never have been exposed to the always fatal A234 Novichuk; but also to as good as accuse that the samples were highly likely to have been twice tampered with while in British custody, first adding some A234 a short time after 4 March, and again adding a fresh dose shortly before the samples were given to OPCW custody. Please read his 14 April words carefully – I put them up again yesterday for easy reference on my Facebook Page. They are the strongest evidence we have of how the Skripals were poisoned and how the poisoners attempted to lay a false Novichuk trail in the samples and around Salisbury afterwards.
On this subject, all the rest is smoke or idle speculation.
Lavrov nailed it – the diplomatic task now for the world community through OPCW is to make public the proof of how the Skripals were poisoned from Spiez and the other three labs, and for UKG to eventually apologise to Russia for their gross calumny against her.
2. On Yulia’s Reuters interview. First, I am satisfied it was her. No substitute could have fooled the family and friends back in Russia, hearing and watching her speak thus at length . It is Yulia. We would have heard complaints by now from the Russian government if it were not.
Now as to the content of her oral statement and two letters
Here is the full video of her statement as delivered in Russian.
And here are both her handwritten and signed letters:
I read the linguistic commentary in the letters to Moon of Alabama with attention, knowing something as I do about Russian language and translation. I am satisfied that the well-rehearsed and familiar statement that Yulia read out with practiced ease, using visual aids or memory, was the product of a negotiation between her and her carers/ captors, let’s call them carers for short.
I believe the first draft in the negotiation was British, which explains the laboured pompous Home Counties/ Estuary court-style English ( ‘I do not want to avail myself of etc’ ) . By the time she got to read out her agreed Russian translation, most of that tortured language was gone, translated into normal spoken colloquial Russian. And then, translations back into normal English appeared as text-overs on the Reuters video, with the laboured phrases gone.
My conclusion is that Yulia’s statement was a negotiated document based on an original British carers’ first draft, substantially amended in negotiation with her.
As someone who has spent some of my diplomatic career negotiating texts, I know that it is a give-and-take process: you give a bit here, I give a bit there, and we each hold onto what we think are our respective sticking points . The result always contains some tensions and contradictions, accepted by both sides in the interest of reaching agreement on the package.
Reading the final statement in English, I feel confident that Yulia’s sticking points were:
- Not to say or imply that any Russian agency poisoned her – the resulting silence on this was a big win for her. Undoubtedly the carers had wanted an anti-Russian accusation. It is not there. Because she refused to point the finger of blame at her country.
- To express the hope of returning to Russia. She would have wanted to say ‘as soon as possible’. Her carers would have wanted to leave this thought out altogether, or if they had to include words on this, to stretch it out into the far future. The result is a compromise – actually, it is more of a win for Yulia, because just the presence of these words, by recording her wish to go home , would make it harder if her carers were ever tempted to have her killed and claim she had gone into hiding under a new identity. This would not wash now.
- As far as possible, to protect her father and avoid a forced separation from him.
I believe her carers’ sticking points would have been:
- That she should thank them and express fulsome gratitude to them. Important as preemptive insurance against any future possible claims by Yulia, after her hoped-for return to Russia, that her carers had held her in forced captivity beyond a time when her medical recovery would have allowed her to travel safely to Russia. This point goes to repeated Russian Govt complaints to Britain from the beginning of the affair, about British violation of signed consular treaties binding both countries. Luke Harding of the Guardian revealingly reports this British government concern.
- That she should emphasise how sick she had been, in how much pain and discomfort etc. This strikes me as British-origin language, Russians are stoical people and would not choose to dwell on their suffering using language like ‘the clinical treatment was invasive, painful and depressing’. The carers wanted to emphasise her suffering. Had she condemned Russia, her condemnation would have been all the stronger.
- That she should say she wants to remain in protective isolation and in particular that she does not wish to have contact with Russian Embassy. This was clearly a carer interest, they wish to maintain full control and isolation of Yulia.
So the result is a compromise, I would say highly probably freely entered into by Yulia, knowing how little power she had to substantially change the text her carers wanted . No wonder there was a spring in her step. She knew that in at least two important respects, she had outwitted her carers. Russians are smart and brave people. Yulia was smart and brave.
Does any of this matter? Only in the sense of clearing away the smoke and the dummy targets, and focussing on what matters most in this awful and sad affair:
(a) getting the Skripals home safely to their country, by forcing the UK government to adhere to its international obligations under consular law
And as a second order objective, possibly not achievable for many years to come,
(b) getting a full British govt apology to Russia and to the Skripals for the attack on them, and subsequent crimes of deceit and mental cruelty and forced detention and calumny.
In conclusion, to me this is not an Agatha Christie parlour game. I have been literally sickened by the corruption of diplomatic relations and simple decency instigated by British government agencies against Russia. Russophobia today in the West is worse than when I wrote about it in my Feb 2017 book ‘Return to Moscow’. The Skripal Affair has in my view been a major British government-instigated provocation against Russia, with significant negative flow-on effects for East-West relations generally, and for peace in hotspots like Syria and Ukraine . I want to see the unsavoury Skripal Affair decently ended and buried in the history books.
Former Australian career diplomat and independent writer Tony Kevin is the author of the 2017 literary travel memoir ‘Return to Moscow’
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