The Waugh Zone Wednesday March 7, 2018

1 SUBSTANCE ABUSE

Theresa May is expected to use PMQs to comment for the first time on the suspected poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.  She may also update the Commons on the outcome of the emergency Cobra meeting convened by Home Secretary Amber Rudd this morning. The PM, like No.10, is much more circumspect than the freewheeling Boris Johnson so anything she says matters.

Newsnight’s Diplomatic Editor Mark Urban tweeted that his (usually impeccable) intelligence sources were worried because “we are treating symptoms, rather than causes, and that is not a good direction to be going in”. There’s lots of speculation about the possible substance used, with the Telegraph suggesting VX nerve agent and the Sun reporting our spooks’ “suspicion is focusing” on a hybrid version of the heavy metal poison Thallium. Thallium is colourless, odourless and tasteless, as well as slow-acting.  Were the couple’s drinks spiked in a pub in Salisbury?

The Times reports that police are now extending their inquiry to include the deaths of Skripal’s wife Liudmila from cancer in 2012 and his son Alexander from liver failure last year. His son was just 44 and died in St Petersburg.  One mystery is just why Russia would break all the usual conventions on spy swaps (Skripal was part of a US-Russia deal)? Andrei Lugovoi, the man the UK believes murdered Alexander Litvinenko, told the BBC that to murder Skripal would go against ‘the rules of the game’. Yet clearly our intelligence agencies think the Russian state is involved.

Security expert Ed Lucas told Newsnight last night that if this was a state-sponsored assassination: “It means they are taking things to a whole new level — it is in effect a kind of declaration of war.” Speaking of which, Boris was yesterday asked in the Commons how he would characterise Russian cyber attacks on UK infrastructure. He replied: “I increasingly think that we have to categorise them as acts of war”. Eagle-eyed Labour’s Chris Bryant spotted that and linked it to…

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