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By John Helmer, Moscow

Yulia Skripal’s appearance in a British garden and her speech for one minute fifty-five seconds provides fresh evidence, less of what is happening to her in British custody, and more of what is not happening.

What is happening is that Skripal gave a memorised speech in front of a camera and teleprompter, but did not say in Russian what the English broadcast transcript, and also the English-language document she signed, claim she said.

Two script pages were visible on a side table during the filming; the one on top Skripal was filmed signing. The two papers appear to be in a different handwriting from Skripal’s signature and in a different pen from the pen she is seen to use. On the top page, apparently the Russian language text, Skripal added words after her signature; these are her first and family names in Russian, but without her patronymic, as Russians usually record their names in official documents. The handwriting of that name and the handwriting of the Russian statement are not the same. Nor the pen and ink used. 

In construction, the Russian version followed after the English; several important English expressions are not repeated in the Russian paper, nor in Skripal’s speech.  The most obvious is the English text in which she purportedly referred to “offers of assistance from the Russian Embassy but at the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services.” Skripal’s Russian text speaks of “help” from the Russian Embassy: “now I don’t want and [I am] not ready to use it.”

“The Russian version of Yulia’s speech is soft, simple, and balanced,” a professional translator comments. “There is no hint or innuendo suggesting hostility towards anything Russian. The English version is sharper and more complicated than the Russian. The meaning is different.”

In the Reuters release,   Skripal made two crossings-out on her script, and two substitutions. Her corrections of the text imply that she has been obliged to change the time period she planned to stay with her father. In the original Russian, Skripal wrote that she intended to “help my father until the time of his discharge from hospital.” That line was changed to extend the period of her stay “until his full recovery”. Yulia Skripal was released from Salisbury Hospital on April 9;   Sergei Skripal, the hospital reported, was discharged on May 18.  If Yulia had been hoping or planning to return to Moscow then, her intention has been altered. The English text and the corrected Russian one mean Yulia Skripal will be staying in the UK indefinitely.

Watch the speech here.    

For the garden, the MI6 officer in a business suit, the still photographer in work gear, lights, teleprompter, and chicken coop, follow this.

Minute 0:18 – man without glasses, wearing business suit and white double-cuff shirt, takes the papers from the table, then the pen Yulia Skripal passes him. She speaks in English to him. Referring to the papers he has just taken, her last audible phrase is “even such a word”.

Minute 0:29 — still photographer wearing glasses and a dark, long-sleeved jacket.  

The lead images precede these in time. They have been taken from an eight-second period at the start of the video clip, Minute 0:06 to 0:14.  At lead image-1, Skripal starts her signature. She is using a blue-ink pen at the bottom of a page which the Reuters publication and the film show to have been hand-written in a black ink. At image-2, she has finished the signature with a flourish, lifting pen from paper. At image-3, she takes four seconds, Min. 0:10 to 0:14, to write additional words, her first and surnames, to the right of her signature; this is a normal speed for a person whose brain, eye and hand are unimpaired. At image-4, she passes the pen to a man who at that instant is off-screen. He appears four seconds later in the film, where he can be seen wearing a dark suit coat and white shirt. The still photographer, visible in the image above, is a different individual.

A neurologist who provides expert testimony in police investigations and civil court proceedings, was asked to review the video clip for a clinical assessment of Yulia Skripal’s current neurological condition after what the British Government has insisted was exposure to a highly concentrated, “military grade” nerve agent. 

He responds that the difference in recovery rate between the daughter, aged 33, and the father, 66,  is consistent with two pieces of evidence. One, according to the source, is well-known – older patients take longer to recover than younger ones.

The other piece of evidence required to explain the difference in recovery rates is not known; that is whether Sergei Skripal was contaminated directly, and his daughter indirectly, or whether he was exposed to a much stronger dose of the nerve agent. For the time being, there is nothing to substantiate the extent of Sergei’s injuries, or how long his recuperation will take to “full recovery” – the English phrase dictated to Yulia before her broadcast.

The doctor reports that because nerve agents usually attack the body by paralyzing the lungs and heart, stopping blood flow to the brain, the standard medical procedure calls for activating a ventilator through a throat tube to revive and sustain breathing. How long the brain was starved of oxygen will influence the extent and duration of the injuries.

The London High Court held a closed-door hearing on an application for blood sampling of the Skripals by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on March 20-21; the ruling, together with the judge’s summary of the evidence, was issued on March 22. At that time, according to Justice David Williams, “Mr Skripal and Ms Skripal are unconscious”; “lack capacity to make a decision on whether or not to consent to giving blood samples”; are “heavily sedated”; and “unable to communicate in any meaningful way”. The judge added: “On balance the lack of capacity arises from an impairment or disturbance of the brain arising out of both sedation and the impact of the exposure to a nerve agent.” For the full story, and the Williams judgement, read this.

In the broadcast released on Thursday, Yulia said “after 20 days in a coma I woke to the news that we had both been poisoned.” This suggests one or two days after the court ruling — March 24 or 25.  Twelve days later, on April 5, Yulia was well enough to make a brief telephone-call to her cousin Viktoria in Moscow. Click to read this  and this.  Yulia revealed then that her father was no longer comatose — “[he’s] recovering…He’s resting now, having a sleep.”

According to the consulting neurologist, the longer a comatose state lasts, the more likely a tracheotomy will be done to clear the throat and prevent inhalation of liquids to the lungs.  Yulia Skripal’s tracheotomy scar was visible in the broadcast; apparently this was a deliberate disclosure  since many patients would in other circumstances prefer to cover up.

Compared with pictures of Yulia in Moscow, before she flew to England on March 3, her appearance this week indicates she has lost weight; is fashionably made-up around the eyes; and looks relatively  healthier now than she did before.

To the expert source, her motor coordination signs look normal;  walking and sitting were unaided and stable; hand-eye coordination was normal; pupil dilation and blink rate were normal; cognition, speech fluency and memory were unimpaired. She had recovered the capacity, if not quite to write out a full page of text, to correct phrases and change meanings; to memorize and deliver a short speech; and to sign her name. Neurologically speaking, the broadcast evidence indicates full recovery from the state the High Court believed her to be in on March 22.  

On the other hand, according to the neurologist, Yulia’s recovery over the eleven weeks since the poisoning in Salisbury on March 4 has been so swift and so sure, this by itself casts doubt over the nature of the poison to which she was exposed.

In both the English and Russian scripts, and in her broadcast, Yulia spoke of what had happened as a “poisoning”, an “attack”, and an “attempted assassination”.  The first term is consistent with an accident, in which Sergei Skripal was culpable; some Russian government versions of what happened use the term “accident”; click to read. The second and third terms are closer to the British government version of what happened. In Skripal’s script and her broadcast, she avoids identifying the suspected attacker or assassin as Russian.

By announcing her “hope to return home to my country”, she repudiates the national blame which her British hosts report to the media.  She has placed her national loyalty after her filial duty, leaving no doubt about both. However, there’s no mention of her host country or anybody British except for “the wonderful, kind staff at Salisbury hospital”.  Again, Yulia departed from the dictated English text. In English she was reported as saying: “Finally, I would like to again thank everyone involved in my continued care.” In Russian she said she wanted to thank “all the people who gave me support and help in this difficult period of my life.” In that last sentence Yulia expanded the geography of her gratitude to include British, Russians, and the world of support which her case has generated.  The phrase she added, which wasn’t in the MI6 script, is a reference, not to medical rehabilitation, but to her continuing custody in the UK, and the terms of isolation which have been imposed on her.

Her request for privacy at the end is different in Russian from the dictated English. According to the script drafted for her, Skripal referred to a statement issued in her name by the Metropolitan Police on April 5, adding: “no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves”. In Russian what she said was: “nobody should or can speak for me and my father, except ourselves.” The English text is an instruction,  directed at Russians, including her family members. The Russian text is a request, directed at Russians and British, alike.


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