by John Helmer, Moscow
English plane spotters and bird watchers have discovered the location of the Skripals in Gloucestershire. An hour and a half’s drive north of their well-known home in Salisbury, Sergei and Yulia Skripal have been hidden inside an airbase operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) for long-range B-52 and B-2 bombers armed with nuclear weapons targeted on Russia.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned in the Salisbury city centre at about 4:15 on Sunday afternoon, March 4, 2018. They were then taken by separate ambulances to the Salisbury District Hospital. What happened to them next remains a state secret. Follow the latest report here.
The British Government has refused to allow consular access to the Skripals, although they are Russian citizens; the Russian Embassy in London has requested the access; British law and international treaties require it. Lawyers in London reveal there has been an informal atmosphere at the Bar deterring an application to the courts for a writ of habeas corpus on the Skripals’ behalf to compel physical access.
A London High Court judge reported publicly on March 22, 2018, that both Skripals were ““unconscious…heavily sedated…unable to communicate in any way”.
As they recovered consciousness, their contact with family members in Moscow was restricted. On March 29, a bulletin was issued by the hospital reporting that “Yulia Skripal is improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition. Her condition is now stable. Her father remains in a critical but stable condition.” This was the first of four Skripal bulletins from Salisbury Hospital officials; they can be followed here. The state news outlet BBC reported the same day that Yulia was “conscious and talking”.
On April 5, she made a furtive mobile telephone call to her cousin in Moscow, Viktoria Skripal; the details were reported here. A tape of the call was broadcast on Russian state television. The BBC then replayed excerpts, with English translation and an anonymously sourced claim disputing that the telephone conversation was genuine.
Left: Russian state television Rossiya Channel 1 broadcasting the telephone-call. Right: British state television BBC broadcasting that the call had been faked. Source: https://www.bbc.com/
That the telephone call was unauthorized by hospital officials and required Skripal to hide from her guards was also indicated by the consequences a day later. The hospital issued a statement on April 6 that “as Yulia herself says [in the telephone recording in Russian], her strength is growing daily and she can look forward to the day when she is well enough to leave the hospital. Any speculation on when that date will be is just that – speculation. In the meantime, Yulia has asked for privacy while she continues to get better – something I’d like to urge the media to respect. I also want to update you on the condition of her father, Sergei Skripal. He is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition.”
In London later the same day, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement “on behalf of Yulia Skripal”. The police website link to that document has disappeared, though the police tweet remains.
News media quoting Scotland Yard reported Yulia as saying: “Everything is fine, he [Sergei Skripal] is resting right now, sleeping. Everyone’s health is fine, nobody has any problems that can’t be put right. I will soon be discharging myself [from hospital].”
Yulia was released from hospital on April 9, according to the official announcement a day later. The hospital’s medical director confirmed that Sergei remained in hospital. “He is recovering more slowly than Yulia,”, the director claimed. “We hope that he too will be able to leave hospital in due course.” On May 18, the hospital announced: “ ‘Sergei Skripal is well enough to leave Salisbury District Hospital,’ the hospital’s Chief Executive Cara Charles-Barks said in a statement.” Since then no independent or direct evidence of Sergei Skripal, nor proof that he is alive, has been published.
The Russian Ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, repeated the official request for consular access. “We are happy that he is all right,” Yakovenko told the BBC. “If they don’t want our assistance, that’s fine, but we want to see them physically.” The BBC reported that day: “Ms Skripal was released on 9 April and was moved to a secure location. It is not known whether Mr Skripal has been taken to the same location as his daughter.” The location, it now turns out in retrospect, was an American military base a 15-minute helicopter ride from the hospital.
For the full story, including the Reuters English transcript, the video clip, and additional furtive signals by Yulia Skripal, read
Visual evidence in the film reveals in the background what appeared at first to be a chicken coop. Local sources have recognized it, as well as the surrounding foliage; remains of bark mulch; two differently constructed fences, one of diamond mesh and one of square mesh; a gate; and a right-curving path. The sources say this evidence identifies the Skripal film location in a corner of open parkland inside the air base known as RAF Fairford.
The sources request anonymity. They say the timber and mesh construction visible behind Skripal’s head is a ladder trap for crows and magpies; for confirming details, read this. That and the other features visible in the Reuters film have been pinpointed on the Ordnance Survey map of the base area where the park path, shown as a blue line, reaches the Alaska Avenue corner.
Source: https://www.google.at/maps/ The blue line is identified in the Ordnance Survey map key as "other road, drive or track,fenced and unfenced"; it is visible as such in the satellite image.
RAF Fairford is regularly monitored by local plane spotters, who follow and photograph the movement of USAF bombers and electronic intelligence aircraft in and out of the base’s runway which has been lengthened and reinforced to accommodate them. The base is in Gloucestershire, 55 miles north of Salisbury, 100 miles west of London.
The history of the base, firstly under Royal Air Force (RAF) control and then under USAF control, can be read here. Sources familiar with the base say the parkland was left to go to weed when USAF operations were reduced after 2010. But current plans call for upgrading and repopulating the base with several hundred fresh USAF personnel.
A US report claims that prepositioning of nuclear warheads for USAF aircraft flying out of British bases ended in 2008. At that time, the ordnance withdrawn was reported to be B61 nuclear bombs designed to be loaded on F-16 fighter-bombers. Since 2016 US experts report that the B-52 and B-2 bombers operating from bases like Fairford have been “denuclearized”. “A total of 30 operational B-52s will be denuclearized before 2018 to reduce the number of deployed nuclear bombers to no more than 60”, wrote Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) in September 2016. Following the Ukraine putsch of February 2014 and the escalation of the US war against Russia, new Pentagon budget spending has sharply increased for “enhanced prepositioning” of cruise missiles for B-52 and B-2 aircraft. The dual capability of such missiles – conventional explosive and nuclear – is well known. Whether USAF nuclear warheads have been returned to the British bases is not known publicly.
Between August 27 and September 20, USAF aircraft were reported locally as deployed at Fairford, including B-52 and B-2 bombers. They flew missions from Fairford to the “Norwegian Sea”, as well as Iceland, the Azores, and over Britain “in world-first partnership with RAF F-35 fighters”.
Deployed on 24 to 48-hour orders from their home bases in the US, they are intended for rapid action against Russia, or other US and NATO operational targets. In the past, USAF aircraft from Fairford participated in the bombing of Serbia in 1999, operations in Iraq in 2003, and simulated Russia-attack exercises in Poland and the Baltic states recently.
US and British ground staff monitor flight fueling at RAF Fairford in September; source: https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/ The “beauty of this place” [Fairford], according to the bomber wing commander, Lieut-Colonel Rob Schoeneberg, “puts us closer to the adversary. It challenges their ability to know where we are at, and know our striking distance.” Schoeneberg acknowledges the operational importance of prepositioning and airbase readiness for rapid deployment of the bombers. He did not mention that prepositioning includes fuel, aircraft maintenance and support equipment, as well as ordnance. The nuclear armament, bombs and missile warheads, of the B-52 is described here and for the B-2 here.
B-2 and B-52 flights from RAF Fairford in August and September. Source: https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/
The newly recognized evidence of Yulia Skripal’s location at RAF Fairford in May 2018 falls short of proving that she and her father continue to live there now. The newly available evidence suggests that the US Government took control of the Skripals immediately after their hospitalisation. Although MI6, the British foreign intelligence agency, had provided their home and security in Salisbury until March 4, 2018, it appears that Sergei Skripal is now a priority interest for the US.
“Being under US control is obviously why Russia has been denied consular access to the Skripals,” comments a Russian source. “HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] doesn’t have them.”
London sources speculate that the Skripals’ residence at the Fairford airbase was temporary, intended by the British and the American services to last only as long as Sergei Skripal took to recover. The sources point out that Yulia’s interview was broadcast only five days after her father’s release from hospital. They believe more time was required for Sergei’s condition to normalize enough for him to be self-sustaining in a new home. This is what has happened to his original one, bought for Skripal by MI6.
The sources suspect there was an agreement between MI6 and CIA for relocating the Skripals to the US, where they are less likely to be recognized. To fly them there by a US military plane from RAF Fairford was a simple, short-term expedient.
Moscow sources aren’t sure whether Sergei Skripal has recovered. They acknowledge that if he has, the US is the likely hiding place for him. They are sure of one thing: whether her father is alive or dead, Yulia Skripal will never be permitted to return to Russia as she told her cousin she wanted in the clandestine telephone call of April 5.