Today at an emergency meeting of the OPCW, Russia proposed a joint UK/Russia inquiry into the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy Sergey Skripal. However, the UK members described this proposal as "perverse". To me, this position seems counterproductive, because if Russia is supposedly one of those countries that are able to produce Novichok, its help and its expertise cannot be overestimated. Besides, I would call this position a deadlock, because if Russia refused to participate in the inquiry, it is as clear as a day, that it would get the blame for everything. But now they put their blame on Russia for its proposal of joint investigation.

My question is, if they do not want to make this inquiry public and probably will classify it (just like Litvinenko case), how can we trust it?


I think I should attach two comments to my question, just to make them visible in case they will be deleted or moved to chat.


What do suspects in normal criminal cases do when they are innocent? They normally aren't allowed to participate in the investigation even if they have the necessary skills for it, anyway.

This comment has much sense and seems reasonable to me. Another interpretation of this idea is that if we allow Russia to participate in a joint inquiry, it will give it leverage over the investigation.


Russian procedural law requires the investigators to notify the suspects and the accused and their representatives about all forensic examinations regarding their case; gives the suspects and the accused and their representatives rights to be present at the examinations, give explanations to the forensic expert performing the examination, file motions to withdraw an expert witness, to appoint an expert witness and to add to the instructions for the expert witness called upon by the investigative body.

But this comment is pure explanation of how it works in reality, when it comes to normal criminal cases. I guess, similar procedures exist in all democratic countries around the world. To add to it, I believe that Russia being a primary suspect, should not be devoid of all rights. While it is not proven guilty, Russia should be present at all examinations and should be given all explanations of any examination. I should stress, that this examination may of course prove that Russia (and Vladimir Putin, personally) is guilty, just like in normal criminal cases.


3 Answers 3


It may help to turn it around. Suppose Vladimir Putin is poisoned and Russia suspects the UK as the culprit. How would Russia respond to a suggestion from the UK that they "help" Russia investigate? From Russia's perspective it would probably seem to be a pretty disingenuous invitation as it would do nothing but give the UK leverage over the investigation to help steer it to a conclusion that better favors them, rather than as an exercise in discovering the truth behind the circumstances.

The Skripal case doesn't involve the head of state being poisoned, but that's just a difference in degree. A UK police officer was also injured, and the risk to the civilian population at large in chemical weapon attacks such as this should not be downplayed. Whoever committed the act did so with reckless disregard to UK citizens that also might come into contact with a very dangerous substance.

Even if they do make the entire investigation public it probably won't have much effect on whether you or other lay people like me trust it in an era where "fake" can mean anything I don't like. What answer you or I are willing to trust in this sense depends mostly on who we trust before the question is even asked.

NB- I don't think that the comparison to an individual criminal case can really go very deep because of scale. Even ordinary criminal cases fall apart due to lack of evidence. Nation states can perpetrate conspiracies on a much larger scale which can be a weakness (since there are more "weak links"), but also provides a large amount of resources to back it. Police can detain an individual suspect in most jurisdictions and prosecutors can bring charges that will completely disrupt a person's life and provide a large incentive for an innocent person to cooperate with an investigation. There is no such incentive between nations, since the UK cannot detain all of Russia for 24 hours for questioning in order to gather evidence. If damning evidence is uncovered, individual suspects don't generally have ICBMs ready to protect against arrest, or an army of people sworn to prevent it.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:13
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    A further problem for the UK in releasing information is that it gives the Russians a better picture of what they might get away with (assuming that they actually are behind the attack).
    – Bent
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 19:35
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    @Bent. While assuming that they are actually not behind the attack (we can't exclude this possibility, because it exists at least in theory), keepeing this information totally secret, makes others believe that all this is bluff. Imagine, if you were imprisoned and was not given any explanation why or it was explained that this information must be kept in secret, would you be satisfied? I guess, no.
    – Jacobian
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 6:26

For the same reason that you don't keep criminal gangs involved in investigations into their criminal activities. It gives them opportunity to hide their involvement in future incidents more effectively by revealing what those investigating know and how they know it.

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    It is a popular misconception. Please, have a look at an update, I made to my question.
    – Jacobian
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 7:30

One of the key factors in refusing Russia's offer of a joint investigation is that the British investigation will cover areas that are typically classified. Consider the following subjects, which would be examined very closely. Any of these could yield information valuable to Russia, whether the Russian government carried out the attack or not.

  • Sergei Skripal's contacts in the UK, possibly including Russian exiles or expatriates who warrant closer attention
  • Methods used by the British government to identify Novichok and similar agents
  • Analysis of procedures in place by British emergency services to help people who have been poisoned
  • A list of suspects likely to include Russian agents
  • Clues as to British intelligence sources and counter-intelligence operations

As the UK government suspects the Russian government of the attack, anything offered by the Russian side would not be trusted. Any level of access to the investigation would give Russia (if guilty) free reign to fabricate evidence, alibis and suspects. Feuds or criminal dealings could emerge in Skripal's past to draw attention away from Russian involvement.

Any completely transparent public enquiry would have the same effect.

if Russia refused to participate in the inquiry, it is as clear as a day, that it would get the blame for everything.

In this situation the Russian government needs to appear innocent enough to create doubt, but not so innocent as to preclude the possibility of guilt. This level of evasion is a signal, just like the use of a definitively Russian nerve agent: is a clear warning to any would-be defectors.

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    Why do you call it "Russian nerve agent", even if OPCW does not call it "Novichok" in its final report and even if Porton Down experts are unable to verify the precise source of Novichok? If you don't believe me, you can refer to British media - theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/03/…
    – Jacobian
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 7:32

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