UK-Russia Relations Worsen As Poisoned Spy’s Health Improves
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal is no longer in critical condition after being poisoned by a nerve agent four weeks ago in southern England. Salisbury District Hospital stated that Skripal’s health is "improving rapidly" and that he is responding well to treatment.
Skripal’s daughter, Yulia, who was also poisoned by the same nerve agent, has been conscious for a few days now and released a statement saying that her “strength is growing daily.”
On Thursday, Russian TV aired an alleged phone call between Yulia and her cousin, Viktoria Skripal, in which Yulia said that “everyone's health is fine” and that she would “be discharged soon.”
Meanwhile, Viktoria was denied a visa to visit the UK. According to the Home Office, “her application did not comply with the immigration rules.”
It has been revealed that Yulia and her father were poisoned by a lethal substance called Novichok, which is believed to have been smeared on the door handle of Skripal’s home in Salisbury.
Skripal is former Russian military intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for the UK's intelligence services. In 2006, he was jailed by Russian authorities for revealing classified information to MI6 but then released in 2010 to reside in Britain as part of a spy swap.
The UK government claims that Russia is behind last month’s attack on Skripal, but Moscow has fiercely denied the allegations.
The dispute resulted in 23 Russian diplomats being expelled from Britain. In solidarity with Westminster’s decision, the U.S. expelled 60 Russian diplomats, and more than 20 other countries have followed suit. NATO cut the Russian mission by seven staff members. Moscow has responded to Britain in equal measure, getting rid of diplomats, and closing down the British Council.
Russian authorities’ proposal of a joint investigation with the UK into the Skripal case has been voted down by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on the basis that it is “perverse.”
Last Friday, Moscow arranged a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the poisoning. At the meeting, Russia's UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzia stated that the UK was waging a “propaganda war,” attempting to "discredit and even delegitimize" Russia with "unsubstantiated accusations.”
"It's some sort of theatre of the absurd. Couldn't you come up with a better fake story?" questioned Nebenzia.
In response, Britain’s UN representative Karen Pierce said that the UK’s claims "stand up to any scrutiny.” Pierce explained that Russia was under scrutiny for several reasons, including the fact that it has "a record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations" and that it "views defectors as suitable targets for assassination."
In the UK, suspicions have also risen regarding the nature of the nerve agent. Novichok is a highly toxic substance first developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and ’80s. Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live, chemical-weapons expert Hamish De Bretton Gordon said "we know almost 100 percent" that Novichok (which can only be made with a "sophisticated laboratory, a lot of money, resources and expertise") was created in Shikhany, a military facility in Russia. Gordon described the agent used in this case as "military grade."
At the UN meeting, Russian representative Nebenzia addressed this issue stating that Novichok is "not copyrighted by Russia, in spite of the obviously Russian name" and, since its inception, has been developed in many other countries.
Turning up the heat, Nebenzia has warned the UK that it is “playing with fire and will be sorry.”