Ex-Russian Spy Poisoned in Southern England
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33, remain in critical condition at Salisbury District Hospital after being found slumped on a bench last Sunday. Both were exposed to a poisonous nerve agent.
A massive attempted-murder investigation, involving over 180 military personnel, London’s Metropolitan police and various forensic teams, is underway in the small UK city of Salisbury, in Wiltshire.
Investigators are in a race against time to stop the spread of contamination and discover who was behind the attack. A military convoy, an ambulance, and a number of incident response units were deployed to Salisbury District Hospital to remove a police car that was used at the crime scene.
A local cemetery was also cordoned off, and investigators in hazmat suits were seen collecting evidence from the grave sides of Skripal’s wife Liudmila and son Alexander (the latter died “under mysterious circumstances” in St. Petersburg two years ago). Skripal and his daughter visited the graves on the day they both collapsed. They also visited an Italian restaurant where traces of the nerve agent were found. In total, five locations in Salisbury have been isolated, including Skripal’s home and a local pub.
DS Nick Bailey, 38, is also in hospital after visiting the home of Skripal soon after he and his daughter were found unconcious. It is suspected that Bailey was exposed to the poison while there.
Despite all this, Salisbury residents are being told to keep calm. Scotland Yard has insisted that “the public should not be alarmed” and public health officials say the incident poses a “low risk”.
Speaking to The Telegraph on Friday, local business owner David Bayfield, whose stall is close to the bench where the victims were found, said: “We are fed up being kept in the dark. Everyone is saying it’s fine but there are police everywhere and now the army. How can it be fine?”
Bayfield continued: “We know he went to the pub but where else did he go? Who did he brush past? Who did he touch? I don’t think we’ve been told the whole truth.”
UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd visited Salisbury. She called the attack “brazen and reckless” and ensured that she would "act without hesitation as the facts become clearer.”
Skripal is believed to be a former double agent for MI6. In 2006, he was jailed by Russian authorities for revealing the identities of Russian agents working undercover in Europe to the British foreign intelligent services. In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released in exchange for 10 Russian spies from the FBI. Skripal was later flown to the UK, where sources say he continued to pass on information about Russian operations for a short period of time.
Many believe that the Russian government was behind Skripal’s poisoning. The use of a sophisticated nerve agent, typically held in state military stockpiles, has raised major suspicion. However, the Kremlin has denied any involvement and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has said that they will help with the investigation if asked by UK officials.
The Russian embassy in London commented on the incident via Twitter. On Thursday, it sent a tweet in response to Skripal being labelled a “Russian spy” in the media: “He was actually a British spy, working for MI6.”
Comparisons have been drawn between this case and the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy who was poisoned in London in November 2006 by a pot of tea spiked with radioactive polonium-210. An inquiry into the death, which was concluded in January 2016, found that the poisoning was “probably” approved by President Putin. Moscow disputed these findings, however, saying the case had been “politicized”.
In response to the Skripal incident, Kirill Kleymenov, a presenter on Russian state TV, made the following statement: “Don’t choose England as a place to live. Whatever the reasons, whether you’re a professional traitor to the motherland or you just hate your country in your spare time, I repeat, no matter, don’t move to England.
“Something is not right there,” Kleymenov continued. “Maybe it’s the climate. But in recent years there have been too many strange incidents with a grave outcome. People get hanged, poisoned, they die in helicopter crashes and fall out of windows in industrial quantities.”
Home Secretary Rudd held an emergency meeting on March 10th with the government’s Cobra committee (a cross-departmental team set up to respond to national or regional crises).
The investigation is ongoing.