It may come as a shock that the two Russian gentleman who visited Salisbury in March this year weren’t just keen Cathedral fans looking for a day of sightseeing fun – who would have thought it? According to investigative journalism website Bellingcat, at least one of the suspects is a Russian intelligence officer using no more than a goatee and a fake name as a disguise.
It transpires that the man named as Ruslan Boshirov is in fact Colenel Anatoily Chepiga, a decorated military intelligence colonel. Having served in Chechnya and Ukraine, Chepiga was made a “Hero of the Russian Federation by decree”, a rare honour handed out directly by Vladimir Putin in 2014. The British authorities have yet to comment, although it is understood that they do not dispute the identification.
He fought for 17 years with Spetnaz, a special forces unit under the control of the GRU, Russia’s largest foreign intelligence agency, serving in Chechnya and Ukraine and accruing over 20 awards for his service. His companion is thought to have a similar history and, although he has not yet been publicly identified, it is understood that security services know his real name.
This development contradicts Putin’s claims that the pair were simply innocent sports nutritionists caught up in an international scandal. A former senior Russian military officer told the Telegraph that “Colonel Chepiga’s high rank and experience strongly suggested that the job was ordered at the highest level”, further implicating the Kremlin. The source went on to claim that a target of less importance would have been assigned to a much lower ranking officer.
This news will be of no surprise to Theresa May who has publicly accused the pair of being members of the GRU in the past. She attacked Russia again during her address to the United Nations general assembly in New York last night, for their “desperate fabrication” of events.
Chepiga is suspected of travelling to the UK with his accomplice Alexander Petrov (real identity pending) in an attempt to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal using weapons-grade Novichok. Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in March, but later recovered in hospital. However, Dawn Sturgess subsequently died in July after her partner mistakably gifted her the discarded Novichok bottle thinking it was perfume. European arrest warrants and Interpol red notices have been issued for the duo, accused of the murder of the Salisbury local, and both men “have been charged with the poisoning of the Skripals by the Crown Prosecution Service”.
A rare beluga whale has resurfaced in the River Thames. The marine mammal was first spotted near Gravesend on Tuesday, before resurfacing. Fears grew for the safety of the whale, as ecologists warned that it was “very lost”. Beluga whales are a social species, usually found in the icy waters around Greenland, Svalbard or the Barents Sea. Although the whale sighting has been described as “concerning”, it appeared to be “happily feeding” between some barges. (£)
It emerged in The Times this morning that Theresa May is “losing cabinet support for her plan to revert to a no-deal Brexit if Europe rejects the Chequers proposals”. Ministers are increasingly worried that Britain may crash out of the EU with no deal in place, urging May to consider a plan-B deal similar to the Canada-esque free-trade deal. Still, the issue of the Northern Ireland border remains as the Prime Minister appears more steadfast that ever in her commitment that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. (£)
More than 40 university leaders have called for the education secretary to ban essay writing companies, as some students pay for bespoke services that go undetected by anti-plagiarism software. They claim that, in allowing for these companies to exist, the government is disadvantaging diligent students and undermining “the integrity of higher education”. Universities Minister Sam Gyimah promised that the government is working on a solution, adding that “legislative options are not off the table”.
Business & Economy
The Royal Mail has appealed to members of the public to stop posting crisp packets. A social media campaign designed at lobbying Walkers to cut out plastic packaging has urged consumers to simply send crisp packets back to the Leicester-based crisp manufacturer. If an item is properly addressed, then Royal Mail is obliged by law to deliver the item. However, they “strongly encourage customers not to post anything into the postal system which is not properly packaged”, urging customers to put the packets into an envelope if they wish to send them back. Walkers aim to ban plastic packaging by 2025, a target date deemed too late for some campaigners.
The Federal Reserve has raised interest rates for a third time this year in spite of US-China trade war tensions and White House pressure for low borrowing costs. The Federal Open Market Committee increased the target range for its key rate to 2-2.25%, and it is expected that there will be a further increase in December. Jay Powell, Federal Reserve Chairman, was positive about the US economy in a subsequent press conference: “our economy is strong, growth is running at a healthy clip, unemployment is low, the number of people working is rising steadily, and wages are up. Inflation is low and stable. All of these are very good signs.” (£)
Goldman Sachs has released plans to offer a savings account to members of the British public. The Wall Street bank will offer savers 1.5% returns a year, currently the best rate on the market. This is expected to force other banks and building societies to offer better returns as well. The news comes as a relief to savers, as rates have failed to rise in line with increases in the Bank of England base rate, with some banks offering as little as 0.15% interest.
What happened yesterday?
The FTSE 100 closed slightly higher yesterday gaining 0.1%, as investors took profits after oil prices hit a four-year high and retailer Boohoo released promising results. AA was a big faller yesterday, with shares now trading down 12.5% at 104.4p following a fall in interim profits due to a “pothole epidemic”.
Meanwhile the Chancellor Phillip Hammond has brought forward the autumn budget to the 29 October. This is around a month earlier than expected, but the Chancellor offered no reason as to the date change. The Financial Times reported that it is to avoid potential clashes with the final stages of Brexit negotiations, which could severely complicate the budget.
In the US, stocks rose as the Federal Reserve raised rates, with the S&P 500 index advancing 0.4% for the day. The oil price fell back 0.6% to $81.36 after reaching a four-year high on Tuesday, but had resumed its climb by this morning.
On the currency markets, the pound gained 0.03% against the dollar at $1.32 and 0.04% against the euro and €1.12.
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Columns of Interest
Douglas Murray begins his piece in The Spectator this week with a paradox: “if the likelihood of getting on a plane with a bomb on it is (say) one in one hundred million, and the likelihood of getting on a plane with two bombs on it is (say) one in 20 billion, then the safest way to travel is to carry a bomb.” And it seems Sweden has its own paradox after the Court of Appeal overturned the deportation of an illegal Palestinian immigrant accused of petrol-bombing a synagogue. Murray notes that, perhaps, committing racist acts of arson is the safest way to stay safe in Sweden, as the Appeals Court accepted that the accused may suffer reprisals from Israel if he were to return home. (£)
Janice Turner has an interesting take on the debate over the definition of a woman in The Times this morning. She argues that an alternative definition could be a “person of either sex who dresses in stereotypically feminine attire” after Nicci Take, a marketing chief executive, was listed as 95 on the FT’s Top 100 Female Champions of Women in Business list. Take describes herself as a “corporate drag queen” who “sometimes goes into work as a man so she can bully people better”. By Turner’s definition, Take is a transvestite rather than a trans woman living and working in the female gender. (£)
Did you know?
Tunnock's Teacakes are not allowed in RAF planes because there is a high risk that they might explode.