Analysis: first claims of VX poisoning of Russians surface

Russian research scientists have described their first two cases of the VX nerve agent in a laboratory in Moscow. Dr Vereshaka Chakravarti (@Vacha).

Health minister and health care experts opened up a centre in Uspensk, south-west Russia. One of them, Vladimir Lermontov, who is also head of the Central Medical University said: “The laboratories run by the Ministry of Health identified two cases of the new nerve agent variants.”

The first one was from abroad and the second from Russia. It is not clear if the person was already dead or if they survived. Dr Vladimir Olyunin, head of Ruskomosun, the border control and anti-terrorism office said that people of “foreign nationality, including physicians” were among the affected. They worked at the same hospital in Uspensk.

“We have asked our colleagues abroad to help identify people who received antidotes or who were affected by the poison.”

The number of hospitals that were evacuated has gone up from eight to 16. Hospitals also have been decontaminated, vehicles have been converted to shelter and switched to air-conditioning systems.

The incident happened in Urals region, located close to the Stans, Salisbury and the Turkish border. The “The Stans” were the enemy country of the USSR during the Cold War. The outbreak of the new nerve agent cases in the region was preceded by the deaths of two Chechen rebels who were killed by Russian special forces in battle.

The Chechen government has announced the state of emergency in hospitals in the region of the republic. It issued a statement saying “Medical staff” were among the “dozens of people” involved in the poisoning. There were no details about who was killed or wounded. The statement mentioned only medical workers and also people “from the tourist sector”.

Some Russian officials and state media claim the poison attack on the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in March was a provocation by Britain, possibly involved in a repeat of the GCHQ/CIA operation to kill Vladimir Putin’s exiled ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko.

But the government of the Republic of Chechnya said no one from the region was affected by the poison or had died. And while some Russians have said the poisoning of the Russian double agent Skripal in Salisbury is Putin’s act of revenge against Britain, the Kremlin has denied involvement and said it has checked whether there was any foul play.

“Russia has always been strongly against the use of the nerve-agent (VX) on foreign soil. Its illegality and ghastly use have been openly called in the Moscow city court,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday. “The present pattern of activities indicates it is the continuation of our enemies’ attempts to discredit Russia and make it seem as if our armed forces are engaged in some sort of war against our own citizens.”

Just because the poisoning took place abroad, and although Putin’s Kremlin says that Russia was not behind the Salisbury poisoning, there are still two questions we do not have answers to.

The first is who is responsible? And the second is why did they do it? And more to the point – why did they do it?

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