British scientists at the Porton Down defence research laboratory have not established that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal was made in Russia, it has emerged.
Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), said the poison had been identified as a military-grade novichok nerve agent, which could probably be deployed only by a nation state.
Aitkenhead said the government had reached its conclusion that Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack by combining the laboratory’s scientific findings with information from other sources.
The UK government moved quickly to make it clear that the prime minister, Theresa May, had always been clear the assessment from Porton Down was “only one part of the intelligence picture”. The comments came hours before an extraordinary meeting in The Hague of the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), called by Russia.
Speaking to Sky News, Aitkenhead said it was not possible for scientists alone to say precisely where the novichok had been created.
He said: “It’s a military-grade nerve agent, which requires extremely sophisticated methods in order to create – something that’s probably only within the capabilities of a state actor.”
He denied Russian claims that the substance could have come from Porton Down, which is eight miles from Salisbury, saying: “There’s no way that anything like that would ever have come from us or leave the four walls of our facilities.”
Aitkenhead said: “We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify it was a military-grade nerve agent. We have not verified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific information to the government, who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions that they have come to.”
So, a downgrade from a certainty to a likelihood.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that this was done just before Russia hosts the World Cup, and the fact that neither of the two alleged targets are dead from something that is supposed to be many times more toxic than VX.
I do not know what is going on, but it appears that whatever it is is weird.
Note that weird does not rule out the Russians, but it means that the path to this attack had to take a very strange route.