Russia has been working overtime this past month to absolve itself of alleged involvement in the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on British soil. It has claimed that it does not possess Novichok, the military-grade nerve agent used in the attack. It has accused the United Kingdom and its allies of spearheading an anti-Russia “crusade.” It has even gone so far as to suggest that the U.K. might itself have been behind the attack.
But, lacking evidence to back up such claims, Moscow’s effort to cast doubt on the accusations against it have been futile. That is, until British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stepped in.
On Wednesday, the U.K.’s foreign office confirmed that it deleted a March 22 tweet claiming that British defense laboratory Porton Down had identified Russia as the source of the nerve agent used in attack. The deletion came just one day after Gary Aitkenhead, Porton Down’s chief executive, told Sky News the lab was unable to pinpoint the exact source of the nerve agent, noting: “It is our job to provide the scientific evidence of what this particular nerve agent is … it is not our job to say where it was manufactured.”
This discrepancy was made even more awkward by the fact that Johnson himself spouted the erroneous claim last month during an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. When asked how the British government could be sure that the Novichok used in the attack was of Russian origin, Johnson cited the scientists at Porton Down. “They were absolutely categorical,” he said. “I asked the guy myself, I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said there’s no doubt.”