Was Moscow really behind the Skripal poisoning?

The British government has accused Moscow of being behind the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and expelled 23 Russian diplomats. At a meeting of the UN Security Council, British and US representatives exchanged angry words with the Russian ambassador. But not all commentators are convinced that Russia was responsible for the attack.

Open/close all quotes
Diena (LV) /

Dubious accusations

Diena explains why Russia is not necessarily behind Skripal's poisoning:

“He hasn't had knowledge of any state secrets for a long time, and he was officially pardoned in Russia. ... The poison was developed in the 1970s and 80s, and after the fall of the Soviet Union production was stopped and all stocks were officially destroyed. Theoretically Russia can resume the production of nerve agents. But right now another question is more pressing: who got hold of the recipes and formulas when everything in Russia was sold in the 1990s? All this raises doubts as to whether Russia can be considered the main suspect. Because the list of potential candidates includes every country - or organisation - that stands to benefit from worsened relations between Russia and the West.”

Adevărul (RO) /

Ghosts from the past

The attack in Salisbury reveals the dangers lurking at the heart of Europe, Adevârul writes, also alarmed by the case:

“For years reliable sources have warned of secret laboratories and arsenals built using goods stolen from former Soviet bases in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Such concerns were thought to be justified because many experts working on the production of chemical and biological warfare agents simply disappeared. And some of those experts are believed to have been hired by terrorist organisations that are now building up their own arsenals.”

Standart (BG) /

Today's world too complex for a cold war

Standart asks whether the Skripal affair will trigger a new cold war, answering:

“Yes and no. The world can no longer be separated into just East and West. Russia's current strategy relies on influencing new lines of conflict. Its economic and political rapprochement with China in recent years is part of this strategy. So you can no longer simply talk of an East-West divide. Things have become more complex. In the Skripal affair the economy plays a moderating role. After all, 55 percent of Russian exports go to the EU. Moscow can't afford to curtail its relations with its most important trade partner. And the EU, for its part, is dependent on Russian energy supplies.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

May avoiding Londongrad

London is afraid to tackle the real problem, columnist Paolo Garimberti criticises in La Repubblica:

“While Russia has recreated the cold war climate, the instruments and objectives have changed. Theresa May hasn't understood this, however - or at least she's acting as if she hasn't. She's reacting to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter as if we were back in the times of the John Le Carré novels. ... The true reason behind this anachronistic - and ineffective - reaction is that Ms May and her illustrious foreign secretary Boris Johnson don't know, or don't want to know, what to do about the so-called Londongrad: a mysterious conglomeration of oligarchs and spies, political opponents and also 'sponsors' of the Russian president who have settled in London since the collapse of the USSR.”

The Times (GB) /

Target Russian families

In the debate over appropriate sanctions the Times proposes tightening the screws on the families of wealthy Russian businesspeople in Britain:

“If we are to have leverage against Putin's circle, we should think seriously about targeting one of the elements that wealthy Russians most value about Britain: the education, manners and social networks on offer in its private schools. Between 2006 and 2016 the number of Russian children attending these schools tripled to 2,300. ... 'We will ban them from the classrooms' doesn't have the heroic ring of Churchill, but in this new warfare, soft power is as real and as valuable as any other we can deploy.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Confrontation would be costly

For Rzeczpospolita the Skripal affair is reminiscent of the Falklands War:

“Today Theresa May - and with her the entire Western world - faces a similar test. If it turns out that Vladimir Putin can get away with using chemical weapons in the middle of Britain unpunished, Nato's credibility will be seriously damaged. That could induce the Kremlin to attempt even more spectacular attacks against European and American interests. Nevertheless, Russia isn't Argentina, and the cost of a confrontation with Moscow would be far higher than that of a clash with Buenos Aires. It's still not clear whether Britain is ready to pay that price. And the attitude of Britain's allies is even less clear.”

Ria Novosti (RU) /

Hysterics instead of coolness: farewell, old UK

In the view of state news agency Ria Novosti the real scandal is the jittery behaviour of the British government:

“The world is shocked by the contrast between its notions of Britain and the bitter reality of the Punch-and-Judy show it is now witnessing. If instead of England this was Ukraine, no one would bat an eyelid. ... This is the 21st century and we're in a real Britain in which a prime minister who has panic attacks and spreads strange theories lives in peaceful coexistence with a virtual Britain in which superhumans in tweed jackets drink tea and astutely analyse the developments.”

Novoye Vremya (UA) /

British intelligence embarassed

The poisoning of another former agent on British soil poses a huge dilemma for London, ex-diplomat Bogdan Yaremenko explains in Novoye Vremya:

“The Russians are effectively calling into question the British intelligence services' ability to guarantee minimum standards in their area of activity, namely ensuring the safety of their own people. This creates gigantic problems for the entire British intelligence system and not just for its activities involving Russia. Yet Britain has never resorted to acts of revenge - the liquidation of Russian secret service agents. Now the British government faces a dilemma: how to win back the lost trust? There are just two options: either retaliation at the secret service level or punishing the Russian state as a whole.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

May has little room for manouevre

La Vanguardia sums up London's options:

“If she doesn't want to jeopardise bilateral relations, which would also have repercussions for Europe and the US, May doesn't have much leeway for new Russia sanctions. London can expel Russian diplomats, make it more difficult for Russians with ties to the Kremlin to obtain visas and even hinder the economic transactions of Russian oligarchs with assets in the City. ... It could also consider withdrawing Russia Today's TV licence and launching a counterstrike in the cyberwar, attacking Russian fake news websites. It could even contemplate boycotting the Russian World Cup this summer. ... The EU has voiced support for Britain but Brussels is unlikely to impose additional sanctions against Russia.”

The Times (GB) /

Trump and Brexit particularly painful right now

London can no longer count on the same level of support from its allies as it could in the past, The Times laments:

“The reality of our new situation is that Britain is going through a process of double estrangement. At the very moment the UK needed a reliable partner in Washington it encounters the first 'America First' president since the Second World War. And it does so at the precise moment it is cutting ties with our erstwhile continental partners. ... Europe and the EU remain our friends but they have less incentive to agree with or assist us than used to be the case.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Keep a cool head

De Volkskrant warns that the West must be calm in its response:

“This is not Cold War 2.0. Not Russia but China is the biggest threat in today's world order. And the West itself, which doubts its own values. ... The Kremlin is operating from a position of weakness, even if this doesn't make the impact any less dangerous. The Western states therefore need a clever strategy that enables them to punish the Kremlin for misdeeds while at the same time leaving the door open for the opponent. The Skripal affair calls for targeted countermeasures and solidarity with the British, but also for clarity regarding the West's intentions. ... Provocations must be met with principles, not with emotions.”