Skripal and Salisbury an infamous combination

It is now a year since Colonel Dr Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, traveling under the false identities of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, both members of the Russian Military Intelligence Service, the GRU, entered Britain through Gatwick airport. They had a deadly intent, kill the double agent who was living in the sleepy city of Salisbury, Sergei Skripal, using the deadly nerve agent Novichok.

Their mission was a simple one but had been carefully planned. Sergei Skripal’s daughter Yulia was landing at Heathrow airport to visit her father and be with him on what would have been her late brother Alexander’s birthday. Her emails and probably her phone, were being monitored by Russian intelligence and they would have known her arrangements in detail.

After checking into a cheap East End of London hotel Mishkin and Chepiga waited until the next morning to take the train to Salisbury from Waterloo, to carry out a final ‘close target recce’ of Sergei Skripal’s house in Christie Millar Road.

Their detailed movements in Salisbury that day have not been revealed completely but it is probably that, in their possession they had a detailed ‘pattern of life’ study on Sergei Skripal, possibly delivered to their hotel, so they knew his normal routine. They knew he left his house through the front door, not the side or back door, they knew he pulled it shut by the handle, not the door frame, they knew everything about him because others will have spent time watching him closely, studying his movements, reading his emails, listening into his phone conversations.

Mishkin and Chepiga’s trip to Salisbury on Saturday 3rdMarch 2018 would be to confirm the route to take to Sergei Skripal’s house from Salisbury Station, look for signs of him being watched by British Intelligence, confirm their escape plan and possibly meet with at least one member of the team that carried out the ‘pattern of life study,’ before returning to London.

Early on Sunday 4thMarch, Mishkin and Chepiga return to Salisbury with a fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle filled with deadly Novichok in Russia having replaced the cap with a special applicator that morning. On arrival in Salisbury they quickly retrace the route they checked out the day before and approached Sergei Skripals house to smear the deadly agent onto his front door.

Whilst it is possible it was dispensed directly from the modified perfume bottle the danger of ‘splash back’ would have meant putting it onto a wipe and smearing that onto the door handle would be safer; we don’t know if this is what they did.  Both Mishkin and Chepiga will have been wearing protective gloves and it is probable that Mishkin carried self-injecting epi pens filled with a nerve agent antidote, atropine, just in case anything went wrong.

This is where their movements become a bit of a blur. At some point they will have taken their contaminated gloves off and disposed of them, that is probably the point they dropped the fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume bottle and exactly where all of this happened is not known publicly yet, neither are the details of their movements around Salisbury before catching the train back to London and then to Heathrow. How and where they disposed of their contaminated gloves has never been mentioned and the fate of the fake Nina Ricci Premier Jour perfume is too well known when Charlie Rowley gave it to his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess on 30thJune 2018 and she sprayed its contents onto her skin, exposing herself to a lethal dose of Novichok.

Just after the attack on 15thMarch 2018, I asked the MET police who had taken over the investigation, what had happened to the items the ‘would be’ assassins had used and was met with silence, I published my concerns here: https://greyharemedia.com/clear-and-present-danger/and in the Sunday papers. Statements from Public Health England said the risk to the public was very low, Dawn Sturgess paid with her life months later.

The detail of where Charlie Rowley found the contaminated perfume bottle and when he found it are unclear. It is distinctly possible he found it in early March and put it in his bag, forgetting it was there until he unpacked after moving into new accommodation from a homeless shelter in June.

I now repeat my question, what happed to the gloves they will have worn? I suspect they were put in a local bin and the next day taken by the council to landfill so are now safely disposed of, but no one has said.

Why Sergei Skripal?

The most important point to start with is the reason for the attack on Sergei Skripal. It was not done first and foremost to kill him, it was assumed, given the deadly nature of Novichok, that he would die. However, if that were the sole motivation then he would have been shot, stabbed or had a car accident. Sergei Skripal was a vehicle used to send a message to any Putin dissenters across the globe that he could get them anywhere, any time and in a horrible way. Prime Minister May hinted to this in an answer to a question after her statement in the House of Commons on 5thSep 2018.

The second reason was to stir a nationalistic fervour into his Presidential campaign domestically by having a reason to say the west was attacking poor Russia.  Remember the attack happened exactly 14 days before the Russian Presidential election and opposition parties and oligarchs were becoming more threatening to Mr Putin’s position and his desire for an increased majority.

Sergei Skripal was chosen because Salisbury in next to DSTL Porton Down, the UK’s chemical defence laboratory and this allowed an element of plausible deniability where President Putin could claim that this was set up to undermine him in the eyes of the international community.

Of note, this is exactly the messaging that came out in the immediate aftermath of the attack. The Russians have a doctrine called маскировка (maskirovka) which is all about ‘masking’ or deception and is central to all they do.  The Russian people have an unhealthy belief in conspiracy theories and that the west is out to get them no matter what and this played into President Putin’s domestic messaging.

Putin and the GRU will have been surprised at the tenacity of the UK’s counter-terror police and Security Services investigation and the level of detail they have managed to ascertain. The public exposure of Mishkin and Chepiga by the investigative website Bellingcat will have severely embarrassed the GRU.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal will now be under the protection of MI5 and being held safely out of the public eye. They will be receiving further medical support for their physical and mental symptoms. Their futures will be being discussed with them and they are an integral part of any and all decisions about what happens next. For Yulia, a complete innocent who had a bright career and future, it must be particularly hard.

What are we missing?

We are missing detail what the police believe happened to other contaminated items, we are missing detail around the movements of Mishkin and Chepiga around Salisbury, very little footage from the city’s new £450,000 public space CCTV has been released, we are missing details of the team that will have carried out the pattern of life study, we are missing details of what Mishkin and Chepiga did in London.

However, we have to remember there is a politically sensitive, highly complex live murder investigation ongoing, so it is unlikely much of this detail will be released because we don’t need to know. A comment on the contaminated detritus to build further public confidence would be good however.

We have to recognise the huge effort the police, security service, ambulance, fire and rescue, NHS, military personnel, DSTL scientists, civilian security staff and council workers have put in to deal with every aspect of this ongoing spy story. If it were not for their professionalism and coordinated effort there would almost certainly be more deaths and much longer lasting consequences for Salisbury and its surrounds.

Note: This blog is written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer and Colonel, who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE