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article imageOp-Ed: Yulia Skripal 'interview' answers few questions

By Ken Hanly     May 25, 2018 in Politics
London - Yulia Skripal, the daughter of Sergei Skripal an ex-double agent, says that both were lucky to have survived an assassination attack on March 4th in Salisbury in the United Kingdom. She said that she hopes to eventually return home to Russia.
Both were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury and spent weeks in the hospital in critical condition. The attack was said to have been carried out using a Novichok type nerve agent that it was claimed was developed only in Russia. Actually it could have been developed other places as well. A nerve agent of the same type was developed in Czechoslovakia. Russia was blamed for the incident resulting in expulsion of Russian diplomats from several countries and a tit-for-tat response from Russia.
Yulia was released from the hospital over a month ago and her father was released just last week. This is the first time that Yulia has appeared on camera although she did make a statement through the police when she was released from the hospital. The release was discussed in a Digital Journal article at the time.
The interview that was not an interview
Reuters was granted what was called an "exclusive interview" but it was simply a video of Yulia reading from a script in Russian. There was a companion script in English that was shown as subtitles during the speech. She signed the text of both. In an interview the person interviewed is asked questions but there were no questions addressed to Yulia either before or after the video taping. This may not be fake news but it is certainly staged news designed to support the official position on the Skripal case without allowing any questions of Yulia.
Yulia's statement's difference from the official narrative
The one part of the interview that indirectly could be regarded as conflicting with the official narrative is that she hoped to eventually return to Russia. This is a bit strange if she believed the official narrative that it was Russia that tried to poison herself and her father.
She did not in her statement blame Russia for the attack as the official narrative does. Perhaps she was asked to do so but refused. Unlike the official account she does not name the nerve agent Novichok.
She does help preserve the official narrative by saying that at this time she did not want to avail herself of the assistance of the Russian embassy. This helps the authorities to continue to refuse Russian authorities any access to her. They have not allowed access to Sergei either but so far he has made no statement even though he has also been released from the hospital.
The Independent's interpretation and critique
An article in the Independent is quite critical of the "interview" with Yulia. It claims several purposes of the video. First it was to restate the UK authorities' version of what happened at a time when the story began to fray. For example it has never been explained how the deadly nerve agent could have been contacted on their door knob but did not render them unconscious for several hours later. It is supposed to act almost immediately.
Secondly, her appearance in the video struck down some of the more extreme speculation such as that she and her father were dead or that there had been no nerve agent attack. There was also speculation that the two would never be seen again. Note we have yet to see Sergei although it has been announced he was released from the hospital.
Thirdly, the video was meant to show the Russians that the UK authorities had not kidnapped Yulia one of its citizens and was unlawfully refusing consular access. Yulia said she did not want the help of the Russian authorities at least for now. One wonders if saying this was one of the conditions under which she was allowed to make her statement.
The Independent concludes: What we have here, it seems to me, is an attempt by the UK to limit the damage to its own reputation – damage perhaps it never envisaged, because it assumed everyone would “buy” the “wicked Russia” story. And the reason this had to be done, now, or at all, was that the UK’s silence – media blackout? – about the Skripals had become embarrassing; it invited unwelcome questions, and perhaps it also risked the UK’s “triumph” in orchestrating a collective Western expulsion of Russian diplomats.
The Independent notes that there are myriad unanswered questions about the official version. It has already been determined that the nerve agent could have come from other countries and that even the UKs Porton Down could have samples. There are questions too, as to where and when the Skripals were poisoned. Many different stories have come and gone including that it was in their car, in a package of cereal, in a restaurant and last on the door knob of their house. The article lists a host of other questions. Note that after all the ruckus and three months on the authorities do not even have a single suspect let alone made an arrest.
Other critiques
Craig Murray has written many critical articles on the Skripal poisoning and has a blog post on the Reuters interview with Yulia. Among other things he notes that there is now plenty of evidence that other countries have made Novichok type nerve agents and he points out that when it was suggested to a Porton Down authority that the agent may have come from their lab, the response was that security was so tight that it was impossible. There was no outright denial they had samples.
An important additional point that Murray makes is that neither Yulia nor Sergei have been able to make any contact with relatives since the phone call to her cousin Victoria when she was in the hospital. This is a sign they are being held under duress: I remain extremely suspicious that, at the very first chance she got in hospital, Yulia managed to get hold of a telephone (we don’t know how, it was not her own and she has not had access to one since) and phone her cousin Viktoria, yet since then the Skripals have made no attempt to contact their family in Russia. That includes no contact to Sergei’s aged mum, Yulia’s grandmother, who Viktoria cares for. Sergei normally calls his mother – who is 89 – regularly. This lack of contact is a worrying sign that the Skripals may be prevented from free communication to the outside world. Yulia’s controlled and scripted performance makes that more rather than less likely. It is to me particularly concerning that Yulia does not seem to have social media access. The security services have the ability to give her internet risk free through impenetrable VPN. But they appear not to have done that.
The Moon of Alabama blog has an even more critical account of the interview. The blog post points out that the two texts which Yulia signed are different in that the English text has no corrections whereas the Russian text has several. It would seem that the text was written by an English speaker and then translated into Russian.
The blog says of the interview: "In the new Reuters video Yulia Skripal gives a memorized and pressed monologue which declares that she does not want to be contacted by her cousin, grandmother, the Russian government or anyone else. The statement was pre-written in stilted, bureaucratic English language. On camera Yulia Skripal used a Russian version of the English text which she likely had not translated herself."
A Sun article notes that Russian government spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said he thought that Yulia was speaking under duress.
Peskov said: "We have not seen her or heard from her. The handwritten letters signed by Yulia in Russian and English confirm this impression. With all respect for Yulia’s privacy and security, this video does not discharge the UK authorities from their obligations under Consular Conventions. The UK is obliged to give us the opportunity to speak to Yulia directly in order to make sure that she is not held against her own will and is not speaking under pressure." I expect there is zero chance of that happening.
The official narrative is unraveled for everyone to see but the authorities hope that people will be too busy with other news items to notice, and it is unlikely that the mainstream press will press the issue. They have been mostly silent while the silence of the Skripals has been noticed only by a handful of marginal commentators. The present video seems to have had the effect of stirring at least some interest among larger papers.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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