• Nick Ng

The Salisbury Aftermath: What is to be done?

Earlier this year, in March, the world was somewhat shocked to hear of the now infamous attacks in Salisbury on an ex-Russian double agent from the Cold War, using a chemical nerve agent known as ‘Novichok.’ Due to the nature of Novichok and its origins as a Soviet developed chemical weapon, fingers were immediately pointed at Russia as the culprits of this attack. After all, they should have had the most incentive to carry out this attack, and perhaps most importantly, they should have had the easiest access to such a weapon, having been developed by their precursors.

Many Western countries were up in arms about this attack – after all, why should they not? This was perceived as almost an act of war – an attack upon home soil on someone who was in fact accepted into the UK with open arms. This attack certainly spread fear into the hearts of those who either live near Salisbury, or in fact any who may be paranoid to some degree. This effect was exacerbated by the fact that only a few months later, in June, two individuals seemingly unconnected with Russia were poisoned by Novichok, with one of the victims dying soon after being exposed to it. When people saw that this had occurred, fear and terror became more prominent. This is to be expected somewhat: if regular British citizens can be targeted, then surely no one can be safe?

As a reaction to these attacks, both the UK and the USA, amongst others, have also started blaming Russia alone for these attacks. UK Ministers such as Sajid Javid, Home Secretary, have called on Russia explain, ‘what exactly has gone on,’ and he delivered a rather ominous line: ‘We will stand up to the actions that threaten our security.’ However, in response, Russia have vehemently denied any involvement in the attacks, with a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, stating that she is confident that London will end up offering apologies to Moscow. However, it does appear that currently, relations between the UK and Russia are rather soured, somewhat expectedly.

The USA, seemingly always spoiling for a fight with Russia, have taken a perhaps more extreme route against Russia, and have expelled five dozen Russian diplomats over the incidents, as well as implementing economic sanctions. Washington has also stated that this was a deliberate contravention to international law by using military grade chemical weapons, with the threat of, ‘more draconian,’ sanctions to come if, after 90 days, Russia have not given more reliable assurances of their lack of involvement.

However, we must ask ourselves: is this right? Russia may indeed have had easy access to Novichok, but so do the ex-Soviet satellite states. It must also be noted that Iran have also developed their own strain of Novichok in recent years. The motivation to carry out these attacks, however, seems to only lie with Russia. However, the fact is that there is no concrete evidence that states Russia’s direct involvement, only speculation. Therefore it is my belief that governments especially ought not to jump too quickly into accusing Russia. Of course, the Kremlin may be lying through their teeth to all others when they claim innocence in this matter, however as it stands, we just do not know. I believe these actions and somewhat wild accusations against Russia from Western governments to be rather dangerous at this time, due to the fact that citizens of those countries are incited to a dangerous form of jingoism and national outrage when they see the reactions from their governments. This, to me, is unacceptable because of the potential for heavy disorder and danger to every citizen, as well as the fact that should the situation escalate, tensions between the West and Russia could reach a boiling point, and war declared, especially with Russian actions in eastern Europe against NATO, and in the Crimea.

A forensic tent in The Maltings, Salisbury

I should like to advise caution to those Western countries involved in pending investigations of Russian activity. It would not be wise to provoke a volatile situation with such a powerful country such as Russia. Therefore, keep your anti-Russian rhetoric to yourselves for now, at least until concrete evidence of direct Russian involvement is made public. The observant public are always watching and listening – following by example. It simply would not do to lead us astray.

At the time of writing, Nick Ng is due to begin studying for a degree in Modern Chinese at Cardiff University in September 2019, while taking a Gap Year from September 2018 to June 2019. The areas that interest him most are UK Defence strategy and Eastern-Western relations.