What is driving Putin’s thinking on Ukraine?

What is driving Putin’s thinking on Ukraine?

What is driving Putin’s thinking on Ukraine?

by Philip Ingram, MBE

Watching the debacle that was the rapid Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the huge amounts of equipment abandoned, destroyed, or falling into Taliban hands as the Afghan security forces melted away, with the political ramifications that spread across the US and UK in particular with the mad scramble, and failure to get all of the locals who had helped the coalition out of the country, it is likely President Putin smiled. Russia had its own debacle in Afghanistan, but it left in a more orderly fashion.  Vladimir knew the West was a shadow of its previous self.

At the time of the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan the then Vladimir Putin of the KGB was finishing his career as an intelligence officer, destroying files in Dresden in the former East Germany. As the wall came down, he moved to be an advisor on international affairs to the Mayor of Leningrad, Anatoly Sobchak, where, by his own admission, he resigned from the KGB in 1991 not wanting anything to do with the post-Soviet regime’s intelligence machinery, his destination was politics.

However, his foundation, the belief at the core of his soul, was the USSR, and a USSR as a world leading global power. He has never lost that belief and has resented everything that has diluted the reality around it.  When it comes to Ukraine, for over 10 years before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin ran a long media campaign aimed at suggesting that Russians and Ukrainian’s were one people but painting them in the eyes of ethnic Russians as “little Russians” and mobilised strong anti-Ukrainian sentiment in the run up to the Annexation. He hasn’t stopped since.

However, what this says is that Putin has a long-term plan, measured in decades not months and his actions into Crimea, support for separatists in the Donbas region, cyber-attacks, possibly assassinations and military deployments to the Ukrainian borders over the years culminating in the current deployment, clearly display his long game approach to achieving his objective; Ukraine being absorbed back to mother Russia.

What is different about this deployment is its scale, not just combat troops but combat support (artillery, engineers) and logistics. It is on a scale not seen before. In addition, it is no accident that Putin is having joint military exercise with Belarus, deploying Naval capability into the Baltic, Atlantic, Mediterranean, having joint exercises with China and Iran in the Indian Ocean, all at the same time. The Russian military has not been tested like this since the old USSR days, something Putin will be proud to have achieved but also concerned about the message at home.

So why doesn’t Putin just invade and take Ukraine immediately?

There are several issues around this simple question, the first is size. Ukraine is the second largest country by land mass in Europe at some 603,628 Sq Km and has a population of approximately 55 million people. That is a huge area to invade and a huge number of people to subjugate; it is not a simple military operation even for a country with the size of military forces Russia has on paper.  Even if he had enough land based military capability to take and hold Ukraine, he would very quickly become fixed and be able to concentrate on nothing else.

The second reason is the potential international reaction. Putin does care about the international consequences, especially if it will hit him and his supporters in the pocket too hard. Economic sanctions he can handle, even though the Russian economy is in turmoil, note how he is courting and getting increased Chinese support! Are we seeing or is there already a coalition of the leaders for life?

However, if it came to the point where his personal assets overseas or those of the oligarchs supporting him (keeping him in power) were badly affected then he would be concerned. Politically he needs to keep the oligarchs onside and able to keep their lucrative businesses, otherwise support to keep Putin in power would disappear rapidly from those with the power to remove him.

Remember the attack on Sergei Skripal in Salisbury with Novichok? That was to send a message to some errant oligarchs more than it was to assassinate Skripal.  Exactly 14 days before the last Presidential election, Putin wanted a greater percentage of the vote and at least one oligarch could have disrupted that. After a smear of Novichok in Salisbury, there was no dissent.

Of note Russia has just changed its position on Crypto Currencies from banning them to regulating them, could this be a move to allow Putin and Oligarchs to protect some of their assets in decentralised currencies, less easy to subject to asset freezing? Regulation would continue to allow him and his political friends to maintain oversight of their use!

What is clear is that Putin is playing a game of 3D or 4D chess, every time he moves, he sits and watches what the global reaction is. He knows that he controls the timings to an extent. Troops deployed without purpose can become disillusioned, equipment deployed where it can’t be maintained properly becomes unreliable, funding large military deployments is expensive and the court of Russian public opinion, no matter how much it is controlled, will only stay silent for a finite period.

His military exercises with China and Iran in the South China Sea, 240 nautical miles off the coast of Ireland, sending landing ships through the Mediterranean, mobilising elements of all of his Naval Fleets are doing two things – the first is sending a message to the West, “you don’t know what I am up to,” and the second is splitting intelligence and diplomatic efforts. Intelligence assets monitoring a large number of events simultaneously means there is less of a concentration of them to monitor what actually happens when it does at Putin’s time and place of his choosing.

When it comes to land-based deployments and his exercises in Belarus, it gives him the ability to outload and forward deploy the military capability he needs to take action into Ukraine but also place troops on boarders with NATO countries as a deterrent. The rationale is twofold – deterring NATO from physically getting involved and secondly splitting Ukrainian defences by suggesting potential multiple axis of invasion. However, no matter what numbers of troops and pieces of equipment are on paper, when analysing Russian capability, only a finite amount will be the newest, the best trained, the capabilities at proper combat readiness. The rest is there for show.

Diplomatically Putin’s manoeuvres are providing him invaluable insights to western thinking, possible reactions, weak points and options. He will continue to play the political and diplomatic game as long as he has options to manoeuvre in this area and gain and keep from his thinking’s perspective, the high ground. He has offered an olive branch to deescalate knowing the thorns on the branch make it unacceptable to the West who rejected it. However, from Putin’s messaging perspective aimed at his troops and his domestic audience, the West have been the aggressor.  This is reinforced by pictures of the US and UK and others sending weapons to Ukraine and talking of military deployments to shore up NATO countries. All of this will be played by Putin as aggression.  We just seem paralysed when it comes to confronting Putin in the information sphere, the Grey Zone!

Putin has found two major cracks in the EU, one he knew about, the inability of Ireland to influence the waters off its coast and how this provides a potential weak point on NATOs flank. However, the bigger weakness is Germany and her political stance not to send military support to Ukraine. From a longer-term perspective, Putin will see this as a huge victory proving the EU can and will never be one security entity and it easily manipulated and fractured economically.

What is missing currently are the final triggers and indicators of an invasion. They will likely start up to 2 weeks before troops move further into Ukrainian territory and will possibly involve false flag incidents in one or all of Russia, Belarus and the Donbas region and/or Crimea, followed by at least one in Ukraine itself, targeting the Russian speaking population. The possibility of a Russian target being subject to a false flag attack anywhere in the world, is very real. Around these there will be increasing cyber activity targeting NATO countries and political entities such as the EU. As these start and as they ramp up, we know an invasion is coming in days.

However, putting all the troop numbers and posturing to one side it is likely if Putin gives the green light to further invade Ukraine that it will be limited, probably just capturing Eastern Ukraine and up to parts of the Dinipro River, consolidating the Donbas region and another land bridge to Crimea. He will likely judge the International community would breathe a sigh of relief if he doesn’t attack all of Ukraine, but that is a dangerous assessment for him to make. However, he does have to do something and relatively quickly. Whatever that is his driving factor will be to maintain credibility domestically and internationally.

Philip Ingram MBE is a former colonel in British Military Intelligence and is available for comment

Toxic by Dan Kaszeta – a review

Toxic by Dan Kaszeta – a review

Toxic by Dan Kaszeta – a review

(A History of Nerve Agents, From Nazi Germany to Putin’s Russia)

By Philip Ingram MBE

I have the unenviable label attached to my profile as a CBRNE expert partly through modules on my Applied Science degree from The Royal Military College of Science being nicknamed the ‘Chemistry of Death,” partially because one of my Masters degree projects was in emerging CBRN threats and partly through my military service having had to deal with CBRNE threats both theoretical and actual all during my 26 years in Service.

I therefore looked forward to the book “Toxic” by Dan Kaszeta, delving into the history of nerve agents from Nazi Germany to Putin’s Russia. Of course, I was considered an expert, I had made organophosphate compounds in a lab, I knew the Germans had invented nerve agents on the back of pesticide research and that the British had invented Vx and Novick’s were Russian; so, what would I learn?

All I can say is a hell of a lot!  Toxic is a comprehensive, exceptionally well researched and thorough explanation of nerve agents, where they came from, how, in broad terms they are made, stored, weaponised, used and work. Having sat in a laboratory being lectured about nerve agents, they can be a very dry subject to say the least, but Dan Kaszeta has managed another coup, to tell their history in a way that reads like a spy thriller. Toxic is a page turner!

That page turner is enhanced by Dan’s very real credibility having been a US Army Chemical Officer and, in the US Secret Service, protecting POTUS from CBRN threats. His knowledge, practical experience and ability to put things in real context shines through.

The title of the opening chapter gave away that the book was well written ‘Axis of Weevils’ brought together the German connection with pesticides, a summary of the whole chapter in 3 words, brilliant.  Importantly he describes how it was the German Army and not the SS who controlled the militarisation of the pesticide research discoveries, a clear example of the real tensions there were between different elements of the German war machine.

The other two important point that came out from his analysis of the German development of nerve agents were the complexity manufacturing them and how this was greatly magnified when attempting industrial level production and secondly the importance of the stocks, documents and scientists captured by the allies at the end of the war.

The complexity issue is critical and reinforced at every turn as the history weaves its way thought the 1950’s and the UK discovering Vx and the 60,70and 80’s with the challenges of not just manufacture but storage and of course delivery means. It is critical when examining the flippant way many so called scientists suggested they could easily make Novichok in a laboratory as part of their defence of Russia post the Skripal affair.

I have one comment to them – I dare you – I know none would even consider it and I shudder at my own fume cupboard concoctions (to be clear none were nerve agents or close).

The unpredictable nature of nerve agents as a weapon and their lack of real impact on the battlefield was well explained as he described their use in the Middle East by Iraq.  Such is their political psychological impact we mustn’t forget it was partially nerve agents that led to the second Iraq war and all of the consequences being still suffered today.  Dan highlights with clear examples why nerve agents are not good weapons of war and not as effective as their deadly reputation suggests.

Given that, I was hoping he might have uncovered more detail around a little reported Operation Avarice where the CIA bought chemical weapons in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.  The few press stories about it are misleading, inaccurate and only tell skewed parts of the story, however I suspect the real files relating to Avarice won’t be released for many years, if ever! One for the next edition.

Having clearly explained how difficult nerve agents are as a weapon of war he explains their effectiveness as weapons of assassination, carefully targeted as in the Vx attack on Kim Jong Nam and the Novichok attack on Sergei Skripal. It is refreshing to read sound accurate analysis, logically explained and completely myth busting.

In all, if you have an interest in military weapon systems, chemical warfare, the impact of personality on decision making and intelligence gathering, the intrigues of manufacturing, storing and weaponising nerve agents (without too much detail) then this is the book for you.  If you like espionage, intriguing factual accounts of real events and a really good read, then this is the book for you.  I highly recommend it.

You can order the book here: https://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/toxic/

 

The Skripal affair – a history in blogs

The Skripal affair – a history in blogs

The Skripal affair – a history in blogs and the unanswered questions

By Philip Ingram MBE

This post is a library giving introductions and links to the 15 blogs I wrote relating to the Skripal attack.

There remains a number of unanswered questions which we are unlikely to get detail on as this remains an active investigation by Counter Terror Police (CTP) UK.  They have released enough information to get formal charges and an INTERPOL Red notice issued against the believed perpetrators, Colonel Dr Alexander Mishkin and Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga of the GRU, the Russian Military Intelligence.  CTP UK don’t need to release any other information at this stage

The bigger questions that remain unanswered include:

What evidence is there of a second team that will have carried out a pattern of life study against Sergei Skripal in the days prior to the attack? How were he and his daughter Yulia monitored by Russian Intelligence and does Salisbury have a permanent interest from Russian Military Intelligence?

What were the full movements of Mishkin and Chepiga on the weekend of the attack? Where else did they go in Salisbury, who else did they meet? Why have we not seen more of the CCTV?

What happened to the gloves and other potential PPE Mishkin and Chepiga will have worn as they deployed the Novichok on Sergei Skripal’s front door? What has that never been found and what is the real story surrounding the perfume bottle found by Charlie Rowley? Why was the potential clear and present danger not highlighted at the time?

Blog links are in chronological order:

07/08 March 2018

Sergei Skripal – was it an assassination?

‪As someone who commanded an intelligence unit with a capability for the covert surveillance of Russian intelligence operations, I think I am qualified to do some analysis of detail that is coming out from the reporting of the Sergei Skripal incident.

https://greyharemedia.com/sergei-skripal-assassination/

11 March 2018

Sergei and Yulia Skripal – additional assessment

The reporting around how Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned and how Det Sgt Nick Bailey came to get sufficient exposure to make him very seriously ill with another 20 or 21 casualties have to be treated for potential contamination raises a number of questions. The reason is, classic nerve agents, even thickened ones are not designed to be slow acting, they are designed to incapacitate first and foremost overwhelming evacuation and medical facilities, sending a clear psychological message to anyone operating in the area where chemical weapons are used.

https://greyharemedia.com/sergei-and-yulia-skripal-assassination-attempt-further-comment/

13 March 2018

Новичок – Novichok what do we know and what do we not know?

Prime Minister Teresa May confirming the agent used in the assassination attempt on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, that put Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey in intensive care and contaminated a number of other people as Novichok, has clarified some of what the country speculated and raised a whole new set of questions; not least of which is what is Novichock? What do we know about it and more importantly what do we not know about it?

https://greyharemedia.com/novichok-what-do-we-know/ 

14 March 2018

Novichock, what response would be appropriate for Russia?

With the Russians having failed to respond to Prime Minister Teresa Mays deadline to answer the simple question of “how this nerve agent came to be used” relating to the use of military grade Novichock in an attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal that put Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey in intensive care on Sunday 8th March in Salisbury.  How should she respond, what are her options, can she really punish Putin and Russia?

https://greyharemedia.com/what-response-would-be-appropriate-for-russia/

15 March 2018

 Is there a continuing clear and present danger?

As support from around the world grows for Prime Minister Teresa Mays stance on what she refers to as the “unlawful use of force” by the Russians on UK soil, with the poisoning of the former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey on the streets of Salisbury using a “military grade nerve agent” Novichok, questions remain.

https://greyharemedia.com/clear-and-present-danger/

26 March 2018

Salisbury, sleepy hollow or spooks playground?

The assassination attempts on Sergei and Yulia Skripal on 4th March has left the world reeling in horror at the first use of a nerve agent in Europe, never mind one Teresa May described as a ‘military grade Novichok’ agent when she firmly pointed the UK finger at Russia. But is there more to Salisbury than meets the eye? Is it a Russian spooks playground?

https://greyharemedia.com/salisbury-sleepy-hollow-or-spooks-playground/

28 March 2018

Skripal poisoning, it was on the door

When Teresa May said in Parliament, “It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’.”  Fingers were pointed at Russia as they have a history of using novel methods to assassinate people, Alexander Litvinenko is a case in point, it sends a message.

https://greyharemedia.com/skripal-poisoning-it-was-on-the-door/

11 April 2018

Novichok and Salisbury – a British Military failure

It should have been a strategic gift, an assassination attempt using an agent that as we have heard from Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the MoD, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), said was a military-grade novichok nerve agent, which could probably be deployed only by a nation-state. Instead, we are being led a merry dance in information terms regarding the burden of proof and apportionment of blame.

https://greyharemedia.com/a-british-military-failure/

07 July 2018

Salisbury and Novichok the truth and myth

As someone who commanded an intelligence unit with a capability for the covert surveillance of Russian intelligence operations, has studied organic chemistry related to defence against chemical and biological weapons at both degree and master’s degree level, I think I am qualified to do some analysis of detail that is coming out from the reporting of the Sergei and Yulia Skripal and subsequent incidents in Salisbury.

https://greyharemedia.com/salisbury-and-novichok-the-truth-and-myth/

09 July 2018

 How did Dawn and Charlie get contaminated?

I have been talking to a number of press outlets regarding how the detritus from the Skripal attack could have come to be in a position to contaminate and kill Dawn Sturgess and put her partner Charlie Rowley into intensive care in Salisbury District Hospital.

https://greyharemedia.com/how-did-dawn-and-charlie-get-contaminated-in-salisbury/

15 September 2018

GRU and Salisbury, a more complete account.

It is not every day that a quiet little English city is caught in the grips of a story that would be a page-turner in any spy novel, where the readers would be sceptical that what was being written about could actually happen.  Well, it did, with the tragic death of Dawn Sturgess and the hospitalisation of Charlie Rowley, Nick Bailey, Yulia Skripal and her father, the intended target of a nerve agent attack, former Russian GRU Colonel, Sergei Skripal.

https://greyharemedia.com/gru-and-salisbury-a-more-complete-account/

04 October 2018

The GRU is on the Ropes

At one-minute past midnight on 4thOctober 2018 a statement came out from the British Government saying that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) had “identified that a number of cyber actors widely known to have been conducting cyber-attacks around the world are, in fact, the GRU.”

https://greyharemedia.com/the-gru-is-on-the-ropes/

07 November 2018

The Skripal Files by Mark Urban, a review by Philip Ingram MBE

https://greyharemedia.com/the-skripal-files/

02 March 2019

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.

https://greyharemedia.com/skripal-and-salisbury-an-infamous-combination-one-year-on/

20 May 2019

The Skripal Investigation, the next revelation.

The Skripal Investigation, the next revelation.

On Saturday The Guardian Newspaper published a story which said: “The Russian men suspected of poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury received a phone call after returning to London on the day of the alleged attack, raising the possibility that a backup team played a role in the operation.

https://greyharemedia.com/skripal-the-next-revelation/

Note: These blogs were written by Philip Ingram MBE, a former British Army Intelligence Officer and Chemical Weapons Expert who was based near Salisbury in the past. If you would like any further comment from Philip, please contact him by clicking HERE

 

GRU and Salisbury, a more complete account.

GRU and Salisbury, a more complete account.

GRU and Salisbury, a more complete account.

Background

It is not every day that a quiet little English city is caught in the grips of a story that would be a page-turner in any spy novel, where the readers would be sceptical that what was being written about could actually happen.  Well, it did, with the tragic death of Dawn Sturgess and the hospitalisation of Charlie Rowley, Nick Bailey, Yulia Skripal and her father, the intended target of a nerve agent attack, former Russian GRU Colonel, Sergei Skripal.

I am someone who has commanded an intelligence unit with a capability to covertly monitor Russian national intelligence operations, has studied organic chemistry and nuclear science related to defence against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, at both degree and master’s degree level. Having been a military intelligence officer and also a Colonel, I have the experience and knowledge of all aspects of the decision-making process leading up to the attack on Sergei Skripal, how it would be planned, executed and the actions the Russian government has taken since then.  It is classic spy story stuff and I am pretty certain my assessments of what happened, why it happened, and more, are accurate.

Having been asked for my opinion on Salisbury by press outlets ranging from Japanese newspapers, to European, Canadian and Australian TV and radio, as well as the usual CNN, BBC, mainstream UK newspapers and bizarrely by several Russian broadcasters, I thought I would put the key points into one blog, bringing together the threads of my previous blogs.  Please feel free to scroll back and read them.

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. If that was the 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.

How did Petrov and Boshirov do what they did?

Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov (almost certainly not their real names) are alleged to have carried out a nerve agent attack in Salisbury in March, which poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal and have been charged by the Crown Prosecution Service, resulting in an INTERPOL Red notice being issued alongside a European Arrest Warrant.

Petrov and Borishov

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu from the MET police counter-terrorism unit, said the suspects were in the UK only briefly, flying in from Moscow on Friday 2ndMarch, staying for two nights at the City Stay Hotel on Bow Road in East London, and flew back to Moscow on Sunday 4thMarch, the day they carried out the attack on Sergei Skripal’s house.

The men took a train to Salisbury on Saturday 3rdMarch “for reconnaissance of the Salisbury area.” They then returned the next day to carry out the poisoning. The police said closed-circuit television recordings showed the men near Sergei Skripal’s house and have found minute traces of Novichok in their Bow Road hotel room.  It is worth noting that big chunks of their time have not been accounted for.

Prime Minister May firmly stated that the two suspects belonged to the Russian military intelligence organisation, the GRU (or Main Intelligence Directorate).  Her choice of words, clearly stating that they were GRU agents, after stating that their names were probably false, strongly suggests that the UK Intelligence agencies know their real identities and therefore links to the GRU.

How would this operation have been planned and executed?

Under a 2006 Russian Federation law, extrajudicial assassinations by agents of the Kremlin need be approved only by the Russian head of state, without reference to others and the GRU will keep an up to date list of those they believe should be targeted including Western spies, political dissenters and others.

Colonel General Igor Valentinovich Korobov, head of the GRU will be no stranger to President Putin, appointed in 2016 by him and made a Hero of the Russian Federation in 2017 he will be a regular advising President Putin on difficult and delicate matters such as Eastern Ukraine, Crimea, Syria and will almost certainly be someone President Putin will use for advice and options in dealing with concerns.

President Putin will have been concerned that his dealing with Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, ensuring his criminal conviction meant he couldn’t run against him, had stirred up further dissent but this time in more powerful and wealthy oligarchs who until then had remained silent. Putin will have asked Korobov to look at options to send dissenters a clear message.

Messaging is a clear tactic used by Russia and the Alexander Litvinenko case will have shown the GRU the wider messaging impact of using novel assassination methods.  GRU scientists will have been trialling many different methods of assassination in their labs that resemble those of Q in the James Bond movies, including the use of nerve agents.  The use of a Nerve Agent as an assassination method was demonstrated by 2 alleged North Korean women in Kuala Lumpur Airport in 2016 when Kim Jong Nam, half-brother to the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was assassinated with an agent identified as VX and the assassins remained safe. This methodology could have been Russian inspired as a ‘field trial’ as there are some unexplained links between Russia and North Korea!

Novichok, a more potent, safer to handle, less detectable and more persistent agent than VX, works in the same way. It poisons the nervous systems ‘off’ switch and is absorbed slowly through the skin. Immediate treatment is using Atropine and similar drugs widely available in any hospital A&E. Its slow action and dramatic effect was the perfect choice to send a message that this was from the Russians but with plausible deniability using маскировка (maskirovka) by choosing a target near to a Western chemical defence establishment. Hence why Sergei Skripal came to the fore.

Once he had been identified as the vehicle to be used to send the message, his electronic life will have been hacked as well as that of his daughter Yulia so they could be constantly watched and a pattern of life study carried out.  The Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) station in the Russian embassy in London will have been tasked to carry out a reconnaissance of Sergei Skripal to update national records and monitor his movements over at least a week-long period at the end of February. That report will have been passed to the GRU and formed the basis of Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov’s trip to Salisbury on 3rdMarch for them to confirm the detail prior to the assassination attempt trip on 4thMarch.

Prior to flying to the UK, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov will have been practising the application of Novichok to a door handle and the removal of protective gloves with the live agent, they will have been learning how to administer the anti-nerve agent drug, Atropine, to themselves should they become accidentally contaminated. They will have been rehearsing their assassination attempt. They will likely have brought the Novichok, already sealed in the modified fake Nina Ricci ‘Premier Jour’ perfume bottle in a Russian chemical warfare laboratory, into the country in their hand luggage.

Their trip to Salisbury on 3rdMarch will have been to check aspects of the SVR pattern of life study and possibly get briefed by the SVR team themselves. So that they could return alone on 4thMarch and apply the deadly Novichok to Sergei Skripals front door.

After they applied the Novichok they will have removed their protective gloves but accidentally dropped the fake Nina Ricci ‘Premier Jour’ perfume bottle with a specially made poison applicator, as they put it back into its cover. Knowing just how deadly the substance was they left, hoping no one would find it. This act was simply a cock up. Their gloves and other contaminated items will have been put into a bin in Salisbury, taken to landfill by unwitting council workers the next day. It was that accidentally dropped bottle that Charlie Rowley found and took home to his girlfriend Dawn.

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 Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov and the strong indications that the UK Government knows their real identities has forced the Russians into what was an embarrassing interview with the Russian state-funded RT network.

The reason for the interview is not to appease the international community or provide a credible story but it is a standard tactic as part of the маскировка (maskirovka) campaign, this time aimed at the Russian domestic audience who are becoming wary of Putin’s performance. The Russians have a word, враньё(vranyo), which means to tell a lie without expecting to be believed. the lie is told purely to save face knowing they won’t be challenged.  This tactic unsurprisingly was common practice in the Soviet era.

What are we missing?

However, there are subtilty’s in the investigation and what has been released and what hasn’t been released that allows what I will caveat as speculation, but argue it is informed speculation.

There has been just enough information, including CCTV stills shown to the general public to back the Crown Prosecution Service charges and the statement by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons. It is almost certain there is a lot more information not yet released.

There will be a lot more CCTV from both the Saturday 3rdMarch and Sun 4thMarch trips that will give a greater insight to Petrov and Boshirov’s movements around Salisbury that hasn’t been released. The police will have made an assessment as to what happened to the protective clothing, as a minimum, pairs of gloves Petrov and Boshirov would have worn to carry out the attack. These will be contaminated.

There is no statement as to where the fake Nina Ricci ‘Premier Jour’ perfume bottle was found by Charlie Rowley and how it remained unaccounted for, for so long. There is no statement to Petrov and Boshirov’s movements in London and how the Bow hotel was identified, or why traces of Novichok from a sealed container would have been found there?  There has been no assessment as to the hours unaccounted for on both 3rdand 4thMarch as Petrov and Boshirov walked around Salisbury.

Why is this being kept from us? The basic answer is, we don’t need to know. I would speculate that the SVR team who carried out the pattern of life study on Sergei Skripal have possibly been identified by the UK intelligence agencies and there is a distinct possibility at least one of them lives in the Salisbury area. If that is the case, they will be running an operation to target individuals and turn them to become double agents for the UK. This I know sounds very James Bond like, but is the day to day role of counterintelligence officers in MI5 and Intelligence officers in MI6. I have seen these types of operation.

Who are the GRU?

They are Russia’s military intelligence service and one of three of Russia’s intelligence agencies whose activities often overlap – the others are the Federal Security Services (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Services (SVR). The FSB has a broader remit, including counter-terrorism, border control and domestic surveillance, but all the agencies are in competition for resources and funding.

The GRU came back in favour with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, activities in Eastern Ukraine and in Syria as they own a special forces element called the Spetsnaz.  They also have historically been responsible for assassinations, espionage and cyber warfare around the world.

The GRU also have a direct-action special forces capability in their ranks called Spetsnaz GRU. It is individuals from these unite we have almost certainly seen in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine and in Syria.

What is Novichok?

Novichok (новичок meaning “newcomer” or “newbie”) are a series of organophosphate-based nerve agents. They were designed by the Russians in the 1970’s and 80’s as they sought to produce a binary chemical warfare agent whose constituent parts would fall out with the chemicals that were to be banned in the International Probation of Chemical Weapons Convention, that was in its diplomatic infancy at the time.

A binary device consists of two ‘safe’ compounds that when mixed together form the nerve agent but on their own are little or no danger. An organophosphate nerve agent is one that works on attacking the chemical switch inside every nerve cell in your body that turns the nerve cell off after being stimulated. That chemical switch is an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase and nerve agents to destroy the body’s ability to synthesise that enzyme.

Nerve agents fall into 3 persistence categories, non-persistent, eg Sarin (used by Assad in Syria), which has the consistency of petrol and evaporates relatively quickly; persistent agents eg Vx (used to assassinate Kim Jong Nam (Kim Jong Un’s half-brother) in Kuala Lumpur airport last year and has the consistency of engine oil; and very persistent such as Novichok that can be in a solid, powder or treacle level of consistency.

Aside from Sarin, the primary method of absorption for nerve agents into the body is through the skin, so it is unlikely that you would know that you have been contaminated with this the colourless, odourless substance until you start to exhibit symptoms.

The symptoms can build slowly for low exposure or come on rapidly for high dose exposure and include: Runny nose and eyes, small pupils or blurry vision, coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhoea, fatigue, headache, or sweating, muscle twitching or a seizure, leading to collapse, respiratory failure and death.

Nerve agents are designed to cause casualties first and foremost to overwhelm evacuation and medical facilities on the battlefield and to deny ground through a sort of chemical minefield.

What will happen next? 

In reality very little – the sabre rattling will continue, if there is sufficient international support then the only way Putin can be hurt is by freezing the assets of his oligarch supporters and aiding Russian opposition parties; play them at their own game but do it within the international rule of law.

Will it happen? Unlikely, as the Russian influence into western governments is much greater than we realise.  The Mueller enquiry in the US will expose some but closer to home the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline providing Russian Gas to Germany shows the economic interdependence that politicians won’t want to destabilise.

President Putin is currently sitting behind his grand desk in Moscow, with a very large glass of the best vodka on ice, stroking a white cat on his knee, knowing he has won yet again.

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

 

 

How did Dawn and Charlie get contaminated?

How did Dawn and Charlie get contaminated?

**Updated 19th July 2018**

How did Dawn and Charlie get contaminated?

I have been talking to a number of press outlets regarding how the detritus from the Skripal attack could have come to be in a position to contaminate and kill Dawn Sturgess and put her partner Charlie Rowley into intensive care in Salisbury District Hospital.

I will caveat this piece from the outset – it is based on speculation, this is purely scenarios I have come up with using a bit of knowledge from my intelligence background and a knowledge of how Novichok and other chemical agents work. As background reading on what Novichok is and more please see my previous article here: https://greyharemedia.com/salisbury-and-novichok-the-truth-and-myth/

One fact we have is that ‘ground zero’ for the Skripal attack was Sergei Skripal’s front door so I am going to work from that point.

Sergei and Julia Skripal were contaminated with Novichok on 4thMarch 2018, however this was not some random act that just happened on that day.  The person or more likely persons involved in the attack will have been preparing for some time.

The first thing that will have been happening once the target was chosen is what is called a pattern of life study to establish Sergei Skripal’s regular routine.  This will have required a surveillance team physically watching Sergei Skripal over a period of days or weeks as well as monitoring his communications and those of his relatives and associates.  We already know Julia Skripal’s emails were being monitored by the Russian state and her phone will almost certainly have been monitored and if they could, the Russians will have been monitoring Sergei Skripals’ communications and online activity.

Whilst the pattern of life study was happening, the would-be assassination team would be practicing working with such a deadly substance, initially with inert substances and possibly have a final practice with the ‘live’ agent. They will he rehearsing their approach to a house in an estate and the application of the agent as well as carrying our many map studies of Salisbury and their route to the Skripal house.

The pattern of life team will then be carrying out practice runs to Sergei Skripals front door. They will adopt an alias based on the pattern of life study – so the delivery of the local takeaway menu, or local free newspaper, or charity clothes bag – all to check and see if Sergei or his neighbours would notice something slightly different.

At some time before 4thMarch 2018 the Novichok nerve agent will have been flown into the UK in a container, probably inside another container and sealed to ensure there could be no leakage. Probably separately the individual or more likely individuals who would be carrying out the attack will have flown in using false identities.

In a few days before the 4thMarch it is probable that the would-be assassins will have been taken to Salisbury and driven around and past the Skripal’s house so they could familiarise themselves with the ground and confirm their detailed map reconnaissance’s.

I now get into the scenarios as to how detritus from the attack could have got into Queen Elizabeth park and remain in a concentration to kill Dawn Sturgess and put her partner Charlie Rowley into intensive care. This is pure speculation on my behalf, including the pick-up and drop off points and routes taken to the Skripals house.  The only two fixed locations are Christie Miller Road where Sergei Skripal lived and Queen Elizabeth Park where Dawn and Charlie were contaminated.

Scenario 1: It came from pre-attack preparation.

The attack team is dropped off in the carpark beside Queen Elizabeth Park – they are sitting on a park bench, it is dark, they are looking like 2 drug users, regular visitors to the area.

On the bench they open a plastic bag and take out a Tupperware type container, it is dark, no one notices they are wearing elbow length protective gloves, unfolding the bubble wrap in the Tupperware container there is a small syringe containing a hand gel-like substance contaminated with the deadly Novichok nerve agent. They squirt the agent onto a cloth and put it back into the Tupperware container – that cloth will be used to smear the nerve agent onto the Skripal’s front door.

Knowing how deadly the agent is and the adrenalin rush of the live op, the would-be assassins are nervous, they accidentally knock the syringe on the ground. Not able to see it quickly and knowing they had a mission to do they left the syringe where it was.

They walk slowly along Churchfields Road, turn right onto Cherry Orchard lane and the cross the A36 down Canadian Avenue and make their way to Christie Miller Road, a quick walk to Sergei’s front door where the cloth is removed from the container and quickly wiped over the door, pretending to post something through the door.

The team moves quickly up India Avenue to the A360, in the process putting the contaminated cloth in a new bag and stripping off their gloves and anything else that could be contaminated and disposing of it in a bin on the A360 before being picked up and driven off to escape the country.

Scenario 2: It came from post-attack disposal of attack means.

The team are dropped off at the India Avenue and A360 junction and walk slowly to Christie Miller Road – they have a cloth in a Tupperware container pre-soaked with a Novichok solution cloth and after quickly wiping it onto Sergei Skripal’s front door they walk south, down Canadian Avenue, up through the industrial area of Lower Road and Churchfield road, heading for Queen Elizabeth Gardens, chosen so they could look like drug users as they took their protective clothing off and dispose of their contaminated detritus.

Unfortunately, as they carefully place everything into another bag, having removed their gloves, the Tupperware container falls to the ground. Un-gloved and unprotected they have no desire to touch it and leave it where it lies. The bag containing gloves, cloth, and other items is placed in a bin near the toilets. Walking down Crane Street to New Street they make their way to the A36 to be whisked away by a pick-up team.

Dawn and Charlie….

Sitting on a bench in Queen Elizabeth Park, Dawn sees a Tupperware container sitting under the bush, thinking “that could be useful” she picks it up and puts it in her handbag, thinking nothing of it, not knowing of its deadly contamination. Or, she sees a syringe and knowing children play in the park she picked it up meaning to put it safely in a bin. Either way, she is a short time off touching the contaminated part of the object and the countdown clock starts for her exhibiting symptoms.

Holding hands on the bus from Salisbury to Amesbury, some of the Novichok is passed from Dawn’s hand to Charlie’s hand. The countdown for him succumbing to the nerve agent started.

Scenario 3:

Scenario 3 is what happened, it could be a mix of one and two or most likely is something else, but I have highlighted these to show what could have happened. The real story will help the police and security services focus their intelligence processes and potentially identify the would-be assassins and their supporting team. Rest assured this was a team effort.

So What?

Under any and all of these scenarios, we have a few common factors. There were a number of people in the original assassination team and it was a carefully planned attack. More worryingly, there is likely to be more contaminated detritus than the one container the police are looking for at the moment.

**Update**

The police investigation potentially identifying a number of “Russian” suspects is what I would expect at this stage of a complex investigation. However, the reports of a perfume spray cause me to raise an eyebrow as it would be a dangerous method for would-be assassins to deploy such a deadly substance. Dangerous because a spray would create an aerosol of this deadly substance that is absorbed through the skin so all exposed skin would have to be covered and the splash back risk from spraying ti would be great potentially contaminating more fo the would-be assassin’s clothing. I would describe it as a ‘brave’ way of deploying a nerve agent. Time will tell.

The reports of several attackers fit with the theoretical scenarios I have outlined above. I would expect the assassination team to be long gone out of the country but Salisbury will always remain a ‘spooks playground.’ https://greyharemedia.com/salisbury-sleepy-hollow-or-spooks-playground/.

This is a very complex investigation and we may never get all of the answers. No matter what I have written, the risk to the general public remains small, but there is a risk, that risk should get smaller as time goes on.

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