British officials, particularly those in the town of Salisbury, are appalled by the release of a Russian board game that mocks the attempt to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the Novichok nerve agent last year.
The U.K. accused Russia’s GRU intelligence agency of endangering British civilians in an attempt to assassinate Skripal, but the board game portrays the perpetrators as comical bumblers and lampoons the entire notion of Russian responsibility for the attack.
The UK Guardian on Thursday described the game as a crude “Candyland” affair called “Our Guys in Salisbury”:
Salisbury, the finish line in the game, is decorated with images of the city’s cathedral and two figures in hazmat suits. They are taken from photographs of the police response to the poisoning of the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia last March.
In one corner of the board is a spray bottle bearing a green skull and crossbones, seemingly a reference to the perfume bottle that British police said the Novichok nerve agent was transported in.
In another corner are two illustrated figures resembling the suspected assailants, Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin. The two Russian intelligence officers were placed under sanctions by the EU on Monday for their suspected role in the poisonings.
The Guardian noted that the game is so ridiculous it was initially presumed to be a fake created with Photoshop for satirical Internet memes, but the creators confirmed on Tuesday it is real and they have printed 5,000 copies for sale. According to CNN, the game quickly sold out in Russian stores.
The creators of the game are committed believers in the Kremlin’s line on the Skripal attack. “In some way, this was an idea of our answer to western media: enough already. To us, it’s not funny anymore. It’s sad. This needs to stop,” creator Mikhail Bober said.
Bober said the game was not meant to “offend anyone,” but rather soothe the hurt feelings of Russians offended by the Skripal allegations and British “Russophobia.”
He even thought the game might serve as a “bridge of friendship” with the people of Salisbury while admitting he could not recall if any of them were killed in the Novichok attack (as it happens, at least one of them was, a woman who found a discarded perfume bottle that held traces of Novichok poison). Bober mentioned that he would be reluctant to create a comparably satirical game about Ukraine and Crimea because “a fair number of people have died there.”
The British do not appear to view the game as a bridge of friendship or a bit of good-natured ribbing. ABC News reminded readers on Thursday of how solid the case blithely dismissed by Bober really is:
British police have accused two GRU agents of travelling to Salisbury under the fake identities Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, carrying the nerve agent disguised as a perfume bottle.
Investigations by independent researchers and journalists later proved the two were in fact Anatoly Chepiga, a special forces officer, and Alexander Mishkin, a military doctor, who had both been awarded Russia’s highest state honor. The Telegraph and other international news outlets have reported that Chepiga and Mishkin travelled in Europe extensively in the years before the assassination attempt.
“I’m shocked and saddened and I think it’s quite a kick in the teeth for the people of Salisbury when we’re working so hard to get back on track and do lots of positive things for the city,” Salisbury councilor Jo Broom responded in an interview with the UK Telegraph.
“I am surprised by it. I think this is a step beyond isn’t it, really? It’s taking it to another level,” said Broom.
The Telegraph attempted to contact the company that markets the game and encountered a sketchy employee who first denied his firm had anything to do with the product, then shrugged the game off in terms that will do little to soothe offended Britons:
Thousands die every day. It doesn’t make any difference if one has the name Skripal and another has the name Petrov or Ivanov. People make money on lots of things. Better to ask an arms maker how Kalashnikov is doing, how American or Israeli defense firms are doing, you’d do better to find that out. It’s just funny.
As all of the above-cited Western media organizations pointed out, the official policy of the Kremlin has been to mock and trivialize the Skripal investigation, leading to polls that suggest only a tiny minority of Russians believe their government had anything to do with the attack.