- The UK Foreign Office cited military scientists in tweets last month directly linking the attack to Russia.
- However, officials later realised they had overstated their case, and that it was intelligence rather than science pointing to Russia.
- They deleted the tweet, to the delight of Moscow, which has been trying to undermine the UK’s accusations against it.
- Britain says it still believes that Russia is to blame.
- But the retraction is an embarrassment when the UK wants to project certainty.
Britain’s Foreign Office quietly deleted a tweet accusing Russia of manufacturing the poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal.
A March 22 tweet claimed that chemical weapons experts at Porton Down had determined that the poison used on Skripal in Salisbury weeks before had been made in Russia.
It was part of a series of tweets paraphrasing Britain’s ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow.
The tweet was embarrassingly taken down, to the delight of the Kremlin, after officials realised that the paraphrase went too far, making claims which couldn’t be supported by the scientific evidence.
Here, side-by-side, is the transcript of Bristow’s speech, and the Foreign Office tweet:
They look almost the same, but differ in a crucial aspect. Bristow differentiates between the Porton Down evidence, which identified the chemical but not where it came from, and a separate assessment blaming Russia.
The apparent back-tracking was seized upon by Russia’s embassy in London, which highlighted the deletion on Twitter:
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) April 4, 2018
It added to confusion about the UK’s assessment of the poisoning, which muddied on Tuesday when Porton Down chief executive Gary Aitkenhead said that scientists couldn’t pinpoint the provenance of the poison based on its chemistry alone.
The UK says it has separate intelligence, which has not been made public, that points to Russian involvement.
When asked by Business Insider, the Foreign Office said the deleted tweet was taken down because it “did not accurately report” what Bristow said.
A spokesman said: “None of this changes the fact that it is our assessment that Russia was responsible for this brazen and reckless act and, as the international community agrees, there is no other plausible explanation.
“No other country has a combination of the capability, the intent, and the motive to carry out such an act.”
Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, said on Tuesday night that Britain would have to apologise to Russia for its “mad accusations” against Moscow. Russia has repeatedly denied its involvement in the attack, often promoting difficult-to-believe and mutually contradictory theories instead.
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