Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal

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Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal
Forensic tent at The Maltings, Salisbury (cropped).jpg
A forensics tent covers the bench where Sergei and Yulia Skripal fell unconscious
Location Salisbury, Wiltshire, England
Date 4 March 2018
Target Sergei Viktorovich Skripal
Yulia Sergeyevna Skripal
Weapons Novichok
Victims 3 admitted to hospital
(subsequently discharged):
Sergei Skripal
Yulia Skripal
Det Sgt Nick Bailey of Wiltshire Police. Two other people were poisoned by Novichok later, one died
Suspected perpetrators
Russian state
Accused Russian nationals Alexander Petrov
and Ruslan Boshirov[1]

On 4 March 2018, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK's intelligence services, and his daughter Yulia Skripal were poisoned in Salisbury, England, with a Novichok nerve agent, according to official UK sources[2][3] and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).[4] After three weeks in a critical condition, Yulia regained consciousness and was able to speak. She was discharged on 9 April 2018.[5][6] Sergei was also in a critical condition until he regained consciousness one month after the attack. He was discharged from hospital on 18 May 2018.[7][8]

A police officer was also taken into intensive care after being contaminated when he went to Sergei Skripal's house. By 22 March he had recovered enough to leave the hospital.[9] An additional 48 people sought medical advice after the attack, but none required treatment.[10][a]

In the 1990s, Sergei Skripal was an officer for Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) and worked as a double agent for the UK's Secret Intelligence Service from 1995 until his arrest in Moscow in December 2004. In August 2006, he was convicted of high treason and sentenced to 13 years in a penal colony by a Russian court.[12] He settled in the UK in 2010 following the Illegals Program spy swap.[13] Sergei holds dual Russian and British citizenship; Yulia is a Russian citizen, and was visiting her father from Moscow.[14]

Later in March, the British government accused Russia of attempted murder and announced a series of punitive measures against Russia, including the expulsion of diplomats. The UK's official assessment of the incident was supported by 28 other countries which responded similarly. Altogether, an unprecedented 153 Russian diplomats were expelled.[15] Russia denied the accusations and responded similarly to the expulsions and "accused Britain of the poisoning."[16]

On 30 June 2018 a similar poisoning of two British nationals in Amesbury, seven miles from Salisbury, involved the same nerve agent.[17][18] A man found the nerve agent in a perfume bottle and gave it to a woman who sprayed it on her wrist.[19] The woman, Dawn Sturgess, fell ill within 15 minutes and died on 8 July, but the man who also came into contact with the poison survived.[20] British police believe this incident was not a targeted attack, but a result of the way the nerve agent was disposed of after the poisoning in Salisbury.[21]

On 5 September 2018, British authorities identified two Russian nationals, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, as suspected of the Skripals' poisoning,[1] and alleged that they were active officers in Russian military intelligence.[22] On 13 September the two men were interviewed on Russian television where they claimed they were tourists visiting the city.

Poisoning[edit]

  • At 14:40 GMT on 3 March 2018 Yulia Skripal flew to Heathrow Airport from Russia.
  • At 9:15 on 4 March the car of Sergei Skripal was seen in the area of London Road, Churchill Way North and Wilton Road at Salisbury.
  • At 13:30 Sergei's car was seen on Devizes Road on the way towards the town centre.
  • At 13:40 Sergei and Yulia arrived in the upper level car park at the Maltings, Salisbury and then went to the Bishops Mill Pub in the town centre.
  • At 14:20 they dined at Zizzi Restaurant.
  • At 15:35 they left Zizzi Restaurant.[23]
  • At 16:15 an emergency services call reported that Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old resident of Salisbury, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia had been found unconscious on a public bench in the centre of Salisbury by a passing doctor and nurse.[24][25][26] An eyewitness saw Yulia foaming at the mouth with her eyes wide open but completely white.[27] According to a later British government statement they were "slipping in and out of consciousness on a public bench".[28]
  • At 17:10, they were taken separately to Salisbury District Hospital by an ambulance and an air ambulance.[29]

According to the UK government, the two were poisoned with a nerve agent.[30] The police declared a major incident as multiple agencies were involved.[31] Following the incident, health authorities checked 21 members of the emergency services and the public for possible symptoms;[32][33] two police officers were treated for possible minor symptoms, said to be itchy eyes and wheezing, while one, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who had been sent to Sergei Skripal's house, had been in a serious condition.[34][35]

On 22 March 2018, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was discharged from the hospital. In a statement he said "normal life for me will probably never be the same" and also thanked the hospital staff.[9] As of 26 March 2018, Skripal and his daughter remained critically ill.[36][37] On 29 March 2018 it was announced that Yulia Skripal's condition was improving and she was no longer in a critical condition.[38] On 5 April 2018 doctors said that Sergei Skripal was no longer in critical condition and was responding well to treatment.[39] On 9 April 2018, Yulia Skripal was discharged from hospital and taken to a secure location.[40][41] On 18 May 2018, Sergei Skripal was discharged from the hospital too.[42] On 23 May 2018, a handwritten letter and a video statement by Yulia Skripal were released to the media for the first time after the poisoning. She stated that she was lucky to be alive after the poisoning and thanked the staff of the Salisbury hospital. She described her treatment as slow, heavy and extremely painful and she had a scar on her neck, apparently from a tracheotomy. She expressed her hope that someday she would return to Russia. She thanked the Russian embassy for its offer of assistance but said she and her father were "not ready to take it".[43]

On 17 March 2018, The Sun reported that the Skripals' vet had contacted the police on 4 March regarding the Skripals' pet cat and two guinea pigs and said the "cat and the guinea pigs were removed from the house and taken away to be assessed."[44] On 5 April 2018, British authorities said that inside Sergey Skripal's house, which had been sealed by the police, two guinea pigs were found dead by vets, when they were allowed in, along with a cat in a distressed state.[45] The guinea pigs were reported to have died of dehydration; the cat was taken for testing to the Porton Down chemical weapons facility, where all three bodies were incinerated.[46]

Investigation[edit]

The first public response to the poisoning came on 6 March. It was agreed under the National Counter Terrorism Policing Network that the Counter Terrorism Command based within the Metropolitan Police would take over the investigation from Wiltshire Police. Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, head of Counter Terrorism Policing, appealed for witnesses to the incident following a COBR meeting chaired by Home Secretary Amber Rudd.[47]

Samples of the nerve agent used in the attack tested positive at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down for a "very rare" nerve agent, according to the UK Home Secretary.[48]

Military experts in chemical warfare defence and decontamination, 180 in number, as well as 18 vehicles, were deployed on 9 March to assist the Metropolitan Police to remove vehicles and objects from the scene and look for any further traces of the nerve agent. The personnel were drawn mostly from the Army, including instructors from the Defence CBRN Centre and the 29 Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search Group, as well as from the Royal Marines and Royal Air Force. The vehicles included TPz Fuchs operated by Falcon Squadron from the Royal Tank Regiment.[49] On 11 March, the UK government advised those present at either The Mill pub or the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury on 4 and 5 March to wash or wipe their possessions, emphasising that the risk to the general public was low.[50][51]

Several days later, on 12 March, Prime Minister Theresa May said the agent had been identified as one of the Novichok family of agents, believed to have been developed in the 1980s by the Soviet Union.[52][53] According to the Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, the British authorities identified the agent as A-234,[30] derived from an earlier version known as A-232.[54]

By 14 March, the investigation was focused on Skripal's home and car, a bench where the two fell unconscious, a restaurant in which they dined and a pub where they had drinks.[55] A recovery vehicle was removed by the military from Gillingham in Dorset on 14 March, in connection with the poisoning.[56][57]

Subsequently, there was speculation within the British media that the nerve agent had been planted in one of the personal items in Yulia Skripal's suitcase before she left Moscow for London,[58] and in US media that it had been planted in their car.[59][60]

Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said on 20 March that it will take "another two to three weeks to finalise the analysis" of samples taken from the poisoning of Skripal.[61] On 22 March, the Court of Protection gave permission for new blood samples to be obtained from Yulia and Sergei Skripal for use by the OPCW.[62][63] By 28 March, the police investigation concluded that the Skripals were poisoned at Sergei's home, with the highest concentration being found on the handle of his front door.[64] On 12 April the OPCW confirmed the UK's analysis of the type of nerve agent and reported it was of a "high purity", stating that the "name and structure of the identified toxic chemical are contained in the full classified report of the Secretariat, available to States Parties."[65][66][67]

A declassified letter from the UK's national security adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill, to Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, stated Russian military intelligence hacked Yulia Skripal's email account since at least 2013 and tested methods for delivering nerve agents including on door handles.[68]

The Department for Environment confirmed the nerve agent was delivered "in a liquid form". They said eight sites require decontamination, which will take several months to complete and cost millions of pounds. The BBC reported experts said the nerve agent does not evaporate or disappear over time. Intense cleaning with caustic chemicals is required to get rid of it.[69][70]

On 22 April 2018, it was reported that British counter-terror police have identified a suspect in the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The suspect is a former FSB officer (reportedly a 54-year-old former FSB captain)[71] who acted under several code names including "Gordon" and "Mihails Savickis". According to detectives, he led a team of six Russian assassins who organized the chemical weapons attack.[72][73] Sir Mark Sedwill, UK national security adviser, reported on 1 May 2018 however that UK intelligence and police agencies had failed to identify the individual or individuals who carried out the attack.[74]

On 3 May 2018, the head of the OPCW, Ahmet Üzümcü, informed the New York Times that he had been told that about 50-100g of the nerve agent was thought to have been used in the attack, which indicated it was likely created for use as a weapon and was enough to kill a large number of people.[75] The next day however the OPCW made a correcting statement that the "quantity should probably be characterised in milligrams", though "the OPCW would not be able to estimate or determine the amount of the nerve agent that was used".[76][77]

On 19 July the Press Association reported that police believed they had identified "several Russians" as the suspected perpetrators of the attack. They had been identified through CCTV, cross-checked with border entry data.[78]

On 6 August 2018, it was reported that the British government was "poised to submit an extradition request to Moscow for two Russians suspected of carrying out the Salisbury nerve agent attack". The Metropolitan Police used two super recognisers to identify the suspects after trawling through up to 5,000 hours of CCTV footage from Salisbury and numerous airports across the country.[79][80]

Suspects and attack timeline[edit]

On 5 September 2018, the Crown Prosecution Service named two Russian nationals, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov (the names used by the men when entering the UK), as suspects and issued European Arrest Warrants. Scotland Yard and the CPS said there was enough evidence to charge the men, but is not applying to Russia for the extradition of the two suspects.[1] As part of the announcement Scotland Yard released a detailed track of the individuals' 48 hours in the UK.[81] This covered their arrival in the UK at Gatwick Airport, trip to Salisbury by train the day before the attack, stated by police to be for reconnaissance, trip to Salisbury by train on the day of the attack, and return to Moscow via Heathrow Airport.[82][22] The two men stayed both nights in the City Stay Hotel located next to Bow Church DLR station in Bow in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, East London and Novichok was found in their room after police sealed it off on 4 May 2018.[83][84] British Prime Minister Theresa May told the Commons the same day that the suspects were part of the G. U. Intelligence Service (formerly known as GRU) and the assassination attempt was not a rogue operation and was "almost certainly" approved at a senior level of the Russian government.[1][85] The same day, the Foreign Ministry of Russia asserted that the U.K. ambassador in Moscow had said that London would not provide Russia with the suspects' fingerprints, passport numbers, visa numbers, or any extra data.[86]

The Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported on 15 September 2018 that a Moscow telephone number for Petrov in official records was connected to the Russian Defense Ministry, and the investigative site Bellingcat reported on 14 September 2018 that there is no record of Petrov or Boshirov in Russian residential and passport databases prior to 2009, suggesting that the names are aliases created then.[87]

Response of the United Kingdom[edit]

Within days of the attack, political pressure began to mount on Theresa May's government to take action against the perpetrators, and most politicians appeared to believe that the Russian government was behind the attack.[88][89] The situation was additionally sensitive for Russia as Russian president Vladimir Putin was facing his fourth presidential election in mid-March, and Russia was to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup football competition in June.[89][90] When giving a response to an urgent question from Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, who suggested that Moscow was conducting "a form of soft war against the West", Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on 6 March said the government would "respond appropriately and robustly" if the Russian state was found to have been involved in the poisoning.[91][92] UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd said on 8 March 2018 that the use of a nerve agent on UK soil was a "brazen and reckless act" of attempted murder "in the most cruel and public way".[93]

Prime Minister Theresa May said in the House of Commons on 12 March:

It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as 'Novichok'. Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia's record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. Mr Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March. Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.[52]

May also said that the UK government requested that Russia explain which of these two possibilities it was by the end of 13 March 2018.[52] She also said: "[T]he extra-judicial killing of terrorists and dissidents outside Russia were given legal sanction by the Russian Parliament in 2006. And of course Russia used radiological substances in its barbaric assault on Mr Litvinenko."  She said that the UK government would "consider in detail the response from the Russian State" and in the event that there was no credible response, the government would "conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom" and measures would follow.[52] British media billed the statement as "Theresa May's ultimatum to Putin."[2][94]

On 13 March 2018, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd ordered an inquiry by the police and security services into alleged Russian state involvement in 14 previous suspicious deaths of Russian exiles and businessmen in the UK.[95]

Prime Minister May unveiled a series of measures on 14 March 2018 in retaliation for the poisoning attack, after the Russian government refused to meet the UK's request for an account of the incident. One of the chief measures was the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats which she presented as "actions to dismantle the Russian espionage network in the UK", as these diplomats had been identified by the UK as "undeclared intelligence agents".[96][97] The BBC reported other responses, including:[98][99]

  • Increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • Freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents
  • Plans to consider new laws to increase defences against "hostile state activity"
  • Ministers and the British royal family boycotting the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia
  • Suspending all high-level bilateral contacts between the UK and Russia
  • Retraction of the state invitation to Russian's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov[10]
  • A new £48-million chemical weapons defence centre[100]
  • Offering voluntary vaccinations against anthrax to British troops who are held at high readiness so that they are ready to deploy to areas where there is risk of this type of attack[101]

The Prime Minister said that some measures which the government planned could "not be shared publicly for reasons of national security".[96] Jeremy Corbyn cast doubt in his parliamentary response to May's statement concerning blaming the attack on Russia prior to the results of an independent investigation, which provoked criticism from some MPs, including members of his own party.[102][103] He supported the expulsion but argued that a crackdown on money laundering by UK financial firms on behalf of Russian oligarchs would be a more effective measure against "the Putin regime" than the Tory government's plans.[104] Corbyn pointed to the pre-Iraq War judgements about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction as reason to be suspicious.[105]

The United Nations Security Council called an urgent meeting on 14 March 2018 on the initiative of the UK to discuss the Salisbury incident.[106][28] According to the Russian mission's press secretary, the draft press statement introduced by Russia at the United Nations Security Council meeting was blocked by the UK.[107] The UK and the US blamed Russia for the incident during the meeting, with the UK accusing Russia of breaking its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.[108] Separately, the White House fully supported the UK in attributing the attack to Russia, as well as the punitive measures taken against Russia. The White House also accused Russia of undermining the security of countries worldwide.[109][110]

The UK, and subsequently NATO, requested Russia provide "full and complete disclosure" of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.[111][112][113] On 14 March 2018, the government stated it would supply a sample of the substance used to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons once UK legal obligations from the criminal investigation permitted.[114]

British foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on 16 March that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that the poisoning had been ordered directly by Russian president Putin, which marked the first time the British government accused Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the poisoning.[115] According to the UK Foreign Office, the UK attributed the attack to Russia based on Porton Down's determination that the chemical was Novichok, additional intelligence, and a lack of alternative explanations from Russia.[116] The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory announced that it was "completely confident" that the agent used was Novichok, but they still did not know the "precise source" of the agent.[117][118]

The UK had held an intelligence briefing with its allies in which it stated that the Novichok chemical used in the Salisbury poisoning was produced at a chemical facility in the town of Shikhany, Saratov Oblast, Russia.[119]

According to a government source, the UK refused to grant a visa to Yulia's cousin, Viktoria Skripal, to visit her, saying that it appears Russia is "trying to use Viktoria as a pawn".[8]

Response of Russia[edit]

Russian government[edit]

On 6 March 2018 Andrey Lugovoy, deputy of Russia′s State Duma (the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) and alleged killer of Alexander Litvinenko, in his interview with the Echo of Moscow said: "Something constantly happens to Russian citizens who either run away from Russian justice, or for some reason choose for themselves a way of life they call a change of their Motherland. So the more Britain accepts on its territory every good-for-nothing, every scum from all over the world, the more problems they will have."[120][121]

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on 9 March rejected Britain's claim of Russia's involvement in Skripal's poisoning and accused the United Kingdom of spreading the "propaganda".[122][123] Lavrov said that Russia was "ready to cooperate" and demanded access to the samples of the nerve-agent which was used to poison Skripal. The request was rejected by the British government.[124]

Following Theresa May's 12 March statement in Parliament – in which she gave Vladimir Putin's administration until midnight of the following day to explain how a former spy was poisoned in Salisbury, otherwise she would conclude it was an "unlawful use of force" by the Russian state against the UK[125] – Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, talking to the Russian press on 13 March, referred to the statement as "an ultimatum from London" and endorsed remarks made by the ministry's spokesperson the day prior, who called May's statement "a circus show in the British parliament";[126][127][128] he added that the procedure stipulated by the Chemical Weapons Convention should be followed whereunder Russia was entitled to have access to the substance in question and 10 days to respond.[126][129][130] He called allegations about Russia's complicity "balderdash".[131] The Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, speaking on a Russian state television channel on the evening of 13 March, said that no one had the right to present Russia with 24-hour ultimatums.[132][133][134]

Finally, the poisoning has been officially declared to be a fabrication and a "grotesque provocation rudely staged by the British and U.S. intelligence agencies" to undermine Russia.[135][136][137][138][139]

On 17 March, Russia announced that it was expelling 23 British diplomats and ordered the closure of the UK's consulate in St Petersburg and the British Council office in Moscow, stopping all British Council activities in Russia.[140]

The Russian government and embassy of Russia in the United Kingdom have repeatedly requested access to the Skripals, and have sought to offer consular assistance. These requests and offers have been denied or declined.[141][142][143][144][145] In September, Russia described the Skripals' situation as "de-facto deprivation of liberty", claiming that several diplomatic and human rights conventions were violated.[141] On 5 September the Russian government rejected the accusations "against Russia and two allegedly Russian citizens."[146]

On 12 September, a statement issued by president Putin said that the two accused men, Petrov and Boshirov, had been identified and located. He said that they were civilians and invited them to speak to the media.[147] In a 13 September 2018 interview on the state-funded television channel RT, the accused claimed to be sports nutritionists who had gone to Salisbury merely to see the sights and scout for nutrition products, saying that they took a second day-trip to Salisbury because slush had dampened their first one.[148]

On 14 September, Lavrov stated in the conference in Berlin after a meeting with Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas: "Our proposal of putting into operation existing mechanisms between London and Moscow on the legal assistance in criminal cases is still in force. Since there is no response to our proposal, we have all grounds to believe that there had been no crime, which these ladies and gentlemen are trying to attribute to our citizens."[149]

Russian state media[edit]

For a few days following the poisoning, the story was discussed by web sites, radio stations and newspapers, but Russian state-run main national TV channels largely ignored the incident.[150][151]

Eventually, on 7 March, anchor Kirill Kleimyonov of the state television station Channel One Russia's current affairs programme Vremya said that being "a traitor to the motherland" was one of the most hazardous professions and warned: "Don't choose England as a next country to live in. 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. 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."[152][153][154][150][155] Kleimyonov's commentary was accompanied by a report highlighting previous suspicious Russia-related deaths in the UK, namely those of financier Alexander Perepilichny, businessman Boris Berezovsky, ex-FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko and radiation expert Matthew Puncher.[152] Puncher discovered that Litvinenko was poisoned by polonium; he died in 2006, five months after a trip to Russia.[156]

The host of the Vesti Nedeli on Russian state television (Russia-1 channel of VGTRK), Dmitry Kiselyov, said on 11 March that the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, who was "completely wrung out and of little interest" as a source, was only advantageous to the British to "nourish their Russophobia" and organise the boycott of the FIFA World Cup scheduled for June 2018. Kiselyov referred to London as a "pernicious place for Russian exiles".[157][158][159][160]

The prominent Russian television hosts' warnings to Russians living in the UK were echoed by a similar direct warning from a senior member of the Russian Federation Council, Andrey Klimov, who said: "It's going to be very unsafe for you."[130]

Claims made by Russian media were fact-checked by UK media organisations.[161][162]

An interview with two men claiming to be the suspects named by the UK was aired on RT on 13 September 2018 with RT editor Margarita Simonyan. They said they were ordinary tourists who had wished to see Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and the "famous ... 123-metre spire" of Salisbury Cathedral. They also said that they "maybe approached Skripal's house, but we didn't know where it was located," and denied using Novichok, which they had allegedly transported in a fake perfume bottle, saying, "Is it silly for decent lads to have women's perfume? The customs are checking everything, they would have questions as to why men have women's perfume in their luggage."[163] Although Simonyan avoided most questions about the two men's backgrounds, she hinted that they might be gay by asking, "All footage features you two together ... What do you have in common that you spend so much time together?"[163] The New York Times interpreted the hint by noting that "The possibility that Mr. Petrov and Mr. Boshirov could be gay would, for a Russian audience, immediately rule out the possibility that they serve as military intelligence officers."[148]

Chemical weapons experts and intelligence[edit]

Porton Down[edit]

On 3 April 2018 Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the Government's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down responsible for testing the substance involved in the case, said they had established the agent was Novichok or from that family but had been unable to verify the "precise source" of the nerve agent and that they had "provided the scientific info to Government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to."[164][165] Aitkenhead refused to comment on whether the laboratory had developed or maintains stocks of Novichok.[165] He also dismissed speculations the substance could have come from Porton Down: "There is no way anything like that could have come from us or left the four walls of our facility."[165] Aitkenhead stated the creation of the nerve agent was "probably only within the capabilities of a state actor" and there was no known antidote.[164][118]

Former Russian scientists and intelligence officers[edit]

Vil Mirzayanov, a former Soviet Union scientist who worked at the research institute that developed the Novichok class of nerve agents and lives in the United States, believes that hundreds of people could have been affected by residual contamination in Salisbury. He said that Sergei and Yulia Skripal, if poisoned with a Novichok, would be left with debilitating health issues for the rest of their lives. He also criticised the response of Public Health England, saying that washing personal belongings was insufficient to remove traces of the chemical.[166][167]

Two other Russian scientists who now live in Russia and have been involved in Soviet-era chemical weapons development, Vladimir Uglev and Leonid Rink, were quoted as saying that Novichok agents had been developed in the 1970s–1980s within the programme that was officially titled FOLIANT and the term Novichok referred to a whole system of chemical weapons use; they, as well as Mirzayanov, who published Novichok's formula in 2008, also noted that Novichok-type agents might be synthesised in other countries.[168][169][170][171] In 1995, Leonid Rink received a one-year suspended sentence for selling Novichok agents to unnamed buyers, soon after the fatal poisoning of Russian banker Ivan Kivilidi by Novichok.[172][173][174][175]

A former KGB and FSB officer, Boris Karpichkov, who operated in Latvia in the 1990s and fled to the UK in 1998,[176] told ITV's Good Morning Britain that on 12 February 2018, three weeks before the Salisbury attack and exactly on his birthday, he received a message over the burner phone from "a very reliable source" in the FSB telling Karpichkov that "something bad [wa]s going to happen with [him] and seven other people, including Mr. Skripal", whom he then knew nothing about.[177] Karpichkov said he disregarded the message at the time, thinking it was not serious, as he had previously received such messages.[177] According to Karpichkov, the FSB′s list includes the names of Oleg Gordievsky and William Browder.[176][178][179]

Spiez Laboratory is the Swiss[edit]

The Swiss Federal Intelligence Service asserted on 14 September 2018 that two Russian spies had been caught in the Netherlands and expelled, earlier in the year, for attempting to hack into the Spiez Laboratory in the Swiss town of Spiez. A designated Lab of the OPCW that had been tasked with confirming that the samples of poison collected in Salisbury were Novichok. The spies were discovered through a joint investigation by the Swiss, Dutch, and British intelligence services. The two men expelled were not the same as the Salisbury suspects.[180][181]

Response from other countries and organisations[edit]

US government[edit]

Following Theresa May's statement in Parliament, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement on 12 March that fully supported the stance of the UK government on the poisoning attack, including "its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury".[182] The following day, US President Donald Trump said that Russia was likely responsible.[183]

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at the Security Council briefing on 14 March 2018 stated: "The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent".[184]

Following the United States National Security Council′s recommendation,[185] President Trump, on 26 March, ordered the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats (referred to by the White House as "Russian intelligence officers"[186]) and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.[187][188] The action was cast as being "in response to Russia's use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilising activities around the world."[186]

On 8 August,[189] five months after the poisoning,[190] the US government agreed to place sanctions on Russian banks and exports.[191][192][193][190] On August 6,[189] the US State Department concluded that Russia was behind the poisoning.[189] The sanctions, which are enforced under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act),[189] came into effect on August 27.[194]

European Union and member states[edit]

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans argued for "unequivocal, unwavering and very strong" European solidarity with the United Kingdom when speaking to lawmakers in Strasburg on 13 March.[195] Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, expressed shock and offered the bloc's support.[196] MEP and leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt proclaimed solidarity with the British people.[197]

During a meeting in the Foreign Affairs Council on 19 March, all foreign ministers of the European Union declared in a joint statement that the "European Union expresses its unqualified solidarity with the UK and its support, including for the UK's efforts to bring those responsible for this crime to justice." In addition, the statement also pointed out that "The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK Government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible."[198]

Norbert Röttgen, a former federal minister in Angela Merkel's government and current chairman of Germany's parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said the incident demonstrated the need for Britain to review its open-door policy towards Russian capital of dubious origin.[199]

Sixteen EU countries expelled 33 Russian diplomats on 26 March.[200][201]

Other non-EU countries[edit]

Albania, Australia, Canada, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Norway and Ukraine expelled a total of 27 Russian diplomats who were believed to have been intelligence officers.[202] The New Zealand Government also issued a statement supporting the actions, noting that it would have expelled any Russian intelligence agents who had been detected in the country.[203]

NATO[edit]

NATO issued an official response to the attack on 14 March. The alliance expressed its deep concern over the first offensive use of a nerve agent on its territory since its foundation and said that the attack was in breach of international treaties. It called on Russia to fully disclose its research of the Novichok agent to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.[204]

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General, announced on 27 March that NATO would be expelling seven Russian diplomats from the Russian mission to NATO in Brussels. In addition, 3 unfilled positions at the mission have been denied accreditation from NATO. Russia blamed the US for the NATO response.[205]

Joint responses[edit]

The leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom released a joint statement on 15 March which supported the UK's stance on the incident, stating that it was "highly likely that Russia was responsible" and calling on Russia to provide complete disclosure to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concerning its Novichok nerve agent program.[206][207] On 19 March, the European Union also issued a statement strongly condemning the attack and stating it "takes extremely seriously the UK Government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible".[198] On 6 September, Canada, France, Germany and the United States issued a joint statement saying they had "full confidence" that the Salisbury attack was orchestrated by Russia's Main Intelligence Directorate and "almost certainly approved at a senior government level".[208]

Expulsion of diplomats[edit]

Expelled Russian diplomats

By the end of March 2018 a number of countries and other organisations expelled a total of more than 150 Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity with the UK. According to the BBC it was "the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history".[209][205][210]

The UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats on 14 March 2018. Three days later, Russia expelled an equal number of British diplomats and ordered closure of the UK consulate in St Petersberg and closure of the British Council in Russia.[140] Nine countries expelled Russian diplomats on 26 March: along with 6 other EU nations, the USA, Canada, Ukraine and Albania. The following day, several nations inside and outside of the EU, and NATO responded similarly. By 30 March, Russia expelled an equal number of diplomats of most nations who had expelled Russian diplomats. By that time, Belgium, Montenegro, Hungary and Georgia had also expelled one or more Russian diplomats. Additionally on 30 March, Russia reduced the size of the total UK mission′s personnel in Russia to match that of the Russian mission to the UK.

Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and the European Union itself have not expelled any Russian diplomats but have recalled their ambassadors from Russia for consultations.[211][212][213][214][215][216] Furthermore, Iceland decided to diplomatically boycott the 2018 FIFA World Cup held in Russia.[217]

Country or
organisation
Diplomats expelled Date announced Response by Russia Date announced
 Albania 2 26 March 2 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Australia 2 27 March 2 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Belgium 1 27 March 1 diplomat expelled (the economic attaché).[219] 4 April
 Canada 4[a][220] 26 March 4 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Croatia 1 26 March 1 diplomat based in Zagreb declared PNG.[221] 30 March
 Czech Republic 3 26 March 3 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Denmark 2 26 March 2 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Estonia 1 26 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Finland 1 26 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 France 4 26 March 4 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Germany 4 26 March 4 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Georgia 1[222] 30 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[223] 13 April
 Hungary 1 26 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[224] 4 April
 Ireland 1 27 March 1 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Italy 2 26 March 2 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Latvia 1 26 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Lithuania 3 26 March 3 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Macedonia 1 26 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Moldova 3 27 March 3 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Montenegro 1[225] 28 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[226] 2 April
 NATO 7[b][205] 27 March
 Netherlands 2 26 March 2 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Norway 1 26 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Poland 4 26 March 4 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Romania 1 26 March 1 diplomat expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Spain 2 26 March 2 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Sweden 1 26 March 1 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 Ukraine 13 26 March 13 diplomats expelled by Russia.[218] 30 March
 United Kingdom 23 14 March 23 UK diplomats expelled by Russia.
British consulate in St Petersburg closed. British Council closure.
17 March
UK diplomatic mission to Russia reduced in size to match Russian mission to UK. Requires the UK to recall a further 27 officials. 30 March
 United States 60[c] 26 March 60 US diplomats expelled by Russia.
US consulate in St Petersburg closed.
30 March

Notes

  • ^[a] 4 diplomats expelled. 3 pending applications declined.
  • ^[b] 7 expelled and 3 pending applications declined. Maximum delegation reduced by 10 (from 30 to 20).
  • ^[c] Russian consulate in Seattle closed. 48 Russian diplomats expelled from Washington D.C. and 12 expelled from New York.

Aftermath[edit]

Some of the emergency vehicles used in the response to the poisoning have been buried in a landfill site near Cheltenham.[227]

On 13 September, Chris Busby, a retired research scientist, who is regular expert on the Russia Today television network, was arrested after his home in Bideford was raided by police without a warrant.[228][229] Busby was an outspoken critic of the British Government's handling of the Salisbury poisoning.[230] In one video he stated: "Just to make it perfectly clear, there's no way that there's any proof that the material that poisoned the Skripals came from Russia." Busby was held for 19 hours under the Explosive Substances Act 1883,[231] before being released with no further action.[232] Following his release, Busby told the BBC he believed that the fact that two of the officers who had raided his property had felt unwell was explained by "psychological problems associated with their knowledge of the Skripal poisoning".[233]

On 16 September, fears of Novichok contamination flared up again after two people fell ill at a Prezzo restaurant, 300 metres (980 ft) from the Zizzi location where the Skripals had eaten before collapsing. The restaurant, a nearby pub, and surrounding streets were cordoned off, with some patrons under observation or unable to leave the area.[234] The next day, the police said there was "nothing to suggest that Novichok" was the cause of the two people falling ill.[235] However on 19 September, one of the apparent victims, Anna Shapiro, claimed in The Sun newspaper that the incident had been an attempted assassination against her and her husband by Russia.[236] This article was later removed from The Sun "for legal reasons" [236] and the police began to investigate the incident as a "possbile hoax" after the couple were discharged from hospital.[237]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Stephen Davies of Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust wrote an open letter to The Times, published on 16 March 2018, clarifying that contrary to reports, no members of the public were affected: "Sir, Further to your report ("Poison exposure leaves almost 40 needing treatment", Mar 14), may I clarify that no patients have experienced symptoms of nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury and there have only ever been three patients with significant poisoning. Several people have attended the emergency department concerned that they may have been exposed. None has had symptoms of poisoning and none has needed treatment. Any blood tests performed have shown no abnormality. No member of the public has been contaminated by the agent involved."[11]

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