Tag Archives: Exspy

Russians accused of poisoning ex-spy say they were in Salisbury as tourists

Two Russians appeared on state television on Thursday, saying they had been wrongly accused by Britain of trying to murder a former Russian spy and his daughter in England and had been visiting Salisbury in March for tourism.

British prosecutors last week identified two Russians they said were operating under aliases — Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — whom they accused of trying to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal with a military-grade nerve agent in England.

The two men who appeared on Russia's state-funded RT television station had some physical similarities to the men shown in British police images.

"Our friends had been suggesting for a long time that we visit this wonderful town," one of the men said of the English town of Salisbury in a short clip of the interview played by RT.

They said they may have approached Sergei Skripal's house by chance, but did not know where it was located. They had stayed less than hour in Salisbury, they said, because of bad weather.

Intelligence officers?

Britain has said the two suspects were officers with a Russian military intelligence agency known as the GRU, and were almost certainly acting on orders from high up in the Russian state. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in the case.

Skripal — a former Russian military intelligence colonel who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain's MI6 foreign intelligence service — and his daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench in Salisbury in March. They spent weeks in hospital before being discharged.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal survived the poisonings after lengthy stays in hospital. (Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

The two men said they did not work for GRU, were ordinary businessmen, and the victim of what they called "a fantastical coincidence."

The duo surfaced a day after President Vladimir Putin said Russia had located Petrov and Boshirov, but that there was nothing special or criminal about them. He expressed hope they would come forward and speak publicly.

The Skripals' poisoning triggered a tense diplomatic showdown. Britain and more than two dozen other countries expelled a total of 150 Russian diplomats, and Russia kicked out a similar number of those countries' envoys.
 
The affair returned to the headlines in July when a woman near Salisbury, Dawn Sturgess, died and her partner, Charlie Rowley, fell ill after Rowley found a counterfeit bottle of perfume containing the Novichok nerve agent and brought it home.

With files from The Associated Press

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Britain charges 2 Russians over nerve-agent poisoning of ex-spy and daughter

British officials said Wednesday they have charged two Russian men with the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury — though they held out little hope of being able to bring the suspects to justice.

The men, who entered the country under the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, were charged in absentia with conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and use of the nerve agent Novichok, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

The two men are said to have entered the country two days before the Skripals were poisoned 0:52

The U.K. is not asking Moscow to extradite the men because Russian law forbids extradition of the country's citizens, prosecutor Sue Hemming said Wednesday.

Britain has issued a European arrest warrant for the two, meaning they could be detained if they leave Russia for another European country. But assistant police commissioner Neil Basu conceded it was "very, very unlikely" police would be in a position to arrest them any time soon.

The men, both about 40, flew from Moscow to London on Russian passports two days before the Skripals were poisoned on March 4, police said. Basu said the passports were genuine but the men were probably using aliases, and appealed the public "to come forward and tell us who they are."

Sergei Skripal — a former Russian agent who had been convicted in his homeland of spying for Britain — and his daughter were found collapsed on a bench in the cathedral city of Salisbury, 140 kilometres southwest of London. They spent weeks hospitalized in critical condition and are now recovering in a secret location for their own protection.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia survived nerve-agent poisoning in Britain after spending weeks in hospital. Although Moscow has denied any involvement in the attack, two Russian men have been charged. (Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

British authorities and the international chemical weapons watchdog say the Skripals were exposed to Novichok, a type of military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

British officials have blamed the Russian government for the poisoning, a charge the Kremlin has denied. The poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations.

Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov are seen at Salisbury train station on March 3 in an image taken from CCTV. British prosecutors have charged the two Russian men with the nerve-agent poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. (Metropolitan Police via Associated Press)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Wednesday that Moscow has no knowledge of the two suspects, saying their names and photos "say nothing to us."

Zakharova called on Britain to co-operate with Russian law enforcement agencies on the investigation. She has criticized London for turning down Moscow's request to see the case files.

Diplomatic fallout

Police on Wednesday gave new details about what Basu called "one of the most complex investigations" the force had ever seen.

Police released a series of images of the men as they travelled through London and Salisbury between March 2 and  March 4. Police say the two men took a flight back to Moscow from Heathrow Airport on the evening of March 4, hours after the Skripals were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury.

Police believe the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals was smuggled to Britain in a counterfeit Nina Ricci perfume bottle and applied to the front door of Sergei Skripal's house.

Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, and her partner Charlie Rowley was hospitalized. British authorities have yet to lay charges in that incident. (Metropolitan Police via AP)

More than three months later, the bottle was found by a local man, Charlie Rowley. He was hospitalized and his girlfriend Dawn Sturgess died after being exposed to the contents.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed Tuesday that Rowley and Sturgess were also exposed to Novichok.

Police are still trying to determine where the bottle was between the Skripal poisoning in March and its discovery by Rowley on June 27. As a result, Basu said, police are not yet ready to bring charges in the second poisoning.

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Russia says U.K. might have poisoned ex-spy to distract from Brexit

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested on Monday that the British government might have poisoned Sergei Skripal to cover up difficulties over Brexit.

Britain has insisted the Russian government was behind the nerve-agent poisoning of the former Russian spy and his daughter March 4 in the English city of Salisbury, a charge the Russians vehemently deny.

Sergei Skripal, left, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury, in southwest England, last month. Yulia is no longer in critical condition.(Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

Russian officials and state television have in turn come up with several different theories to explain the poisoning.

At a news conference in Moscow on Monday, Lavrov repeated a suggestion previously made by Russia, that British secret services were the ones who deployed the nerve agent Novichok. 

Sergei Lavrov suggests poisoning may have been to distract public from Brexit issues1:33

“There are other explanations besides those put forward by our Western colleagues who declare that it can only be the Russians who are responsible,” he said. “There are other explanations; experts say that it could be highly advantageous to the British security services as well, who are well known for their capacity to act with a licence to kill.

“It could also be advantageous to the British government, who clearly find themselves in a difficult situation, having failed to fulfil their promises to voters over Brexit.”

Twitter campaign

The statements come as the Russian Embassy in London put out a series of tweets over the weekend raising issues with the British response and investigation into the Skripal poisonings. The 14 questions tweeted out cover everything from how U.K. experts determined the nerve agent originated in Russia, to how medical personnel would have had antidotes available.

“Why has Russia been denied consular access to the two Russian nationals, Sergei and Yulia Skripal, that have become crime victims in the British territory?” the first of the tweet says.

A number of the tweets raise allegations that France was closely involved in the British investigation.

“On what grounds has France been involved in technical co-operation with regard to the investigation of an incident in which Russian nationals had suffered?” one of the questions says.

“Were French experts present when biological material was taken from Mr. and Ms. Skripal?” another one asks.


British police said last week that the Skripals might have been exposed to Novichok at the front door of their home. A statement by Scotland Yard said specialists have identified the highest concentration so far of the nerve agent as being “on the front door of the address.”

Sergei, 66, and Yulia Skripal, 33, were both in critical condition in hospital after they were found unconscious on a public bench in Salisbury, but Yulia Skripal’s condition has improved and her condition is no longer considered critical.

Sergei Skripal was a Russian military intelligence officer when he began passing state secrets to Britain’s MI6 agency in the mid-1990s. He was eventually caught and tried in Russia in 2006, and was found guilty and imprisoned. But in 2010, Russia released him to the U.K. as part of a prisoner swap for former Russian spies.

He had been living a low-profile life in Salisbury, in southwest England. 

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U.S., U.K., France and Germany issue statement blaming Russia for poisoning of ex-spy

The leaders of the United States, France and Germany joined Britain on Thursday in blaming Russia for poisoning a former spy with a powerful nerve agent, calling the attack “the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.”

In a rare joint statement, U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said “there is no plausible alternative explanation” to Russian responsibility.

They said Russia’s failure to respond to Britain’s “legitimate request” for an explanation “further underlines its responsibility.”

The leaders said the use of a chemical weapon is “an assault on U.K. sovereignty” and “a breach of international law.”

The statement is the fruit of British efforts to enlist international support as it tries to hold Russia accountable for the March 4 attack that left former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in critical condition and a British police officer seriously ill.

In a statement also issued on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his support for the U.K.

“Canada is unwavering in its commitment to the United Kingdom,” he said. “The United Kingdom can count on Canada’s full support in efforts to hold Russia to account for this unacceptable and unlawful behaviour.

“We will work closely with the United Kingdom, as well as with our international partners and through international institutions, to address this very serious situation.‎”

Russia says it will respond in kind to U.K.

U.K.-Russia relations have plunged to Cold War-era levels of iciness since the poisoning.

On Wednesday, May expelled 23 Russian diplomats, severed high-level contacts with Moscow and vowed both open and covert actions following the attack.

Russia denies being the source of the nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals.

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, said Russia was “worried by this situation” and would work to express its position on the international stage.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Moscow would “certainly” expel some British diplomats in a tit-for-tat response.

Lavrov, in remarks carried by the RIA Novosti news agency, said the move would come “soon,” but added that Moscow would inform London through official channels before publicly announcing its countermeasures.

Peskov said the decision about how to retaliate would come from Russian President Vladimir Putin, “and there is no doubt that he will choose the option that best reflects Russian interests.”

U.K. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson called relations between the two countries “exceptionally chilly,” and said Russia should “go away and shut up.”

And British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Russia targeted Skripal — a former Russian intelligence officer convicted of spying for Britain — to make it clear that those who defy the Russian state deserve to “choke on their own 30 pieces of silver.”

“The reason they’ve chosen this nerve agent is to show that it’s Russia, and to show people in their agencies who might think of defecting or of supporting another way of life, of believing in an alternative set of values, that Russia will take revenge,” Johnson told the BBC.

Novichok nerve agents gfx

May announced the sanctions against Russia in the House of Commons after Moscow ignored a deadline to explain its links to the attack on the Skripals.

As a result of the suspension of high-level contacts with Russia, Britain cancelled an invitation for Lavrov to visit. British ministers and royals also won’t attend the World Cup soccer tournament this summer in Russia, May said.

She said Britain would also clamp down on murky Russian money and strengthen the government’s ability to impose sanctions on those who abuse human rights, though she gave few details.

‘Pattern’ of ‘irresponsible’ behaviour

Britain is also trying to build a unified Western response, saying the attack in Salisbury is just the latest example of Russia’s disregard for international norms on the rule of law.

In their joint statement, Trump, Macron, Merkel and May cited “a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behaviour,” and called on Russia to disclose details of its Novichok program to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

“We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council to uphold international peace and security,” they said.

On Thursday, May went to the British city of Salisbury to view the site where the Skripals were found critically ill.

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U.S. Secretary of State says poisoning of ex-spy in Britain will 'certainly trigger a response'

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cast the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain as part of a “certain unleashing of activity” by Russia that the United States is struggling to understand.

He also warned that the poisoning would “certainly trigger a response.”

Tillerson, echoing the British government’s finger-pointing toward Moscow, said he didn’t yet know whether Russia’s government knew of the attack with a military-grade nerve agent, but that one way or another, “it came from Russia.” He said it was “almost beyond comprehension” why a state actor would deploy such a dangerous substance in a public place, where others could be exposed.

“I cannot understand why anyone would take such an action. But this is a substance that is known to us and does not exist widely,” Tillerson told reporters as he flew from Nigeria to Washington. “It is only in the hands of a very, very limited number of parties.”

Nerve agent developed during Cold War

British Prime Minister Theresa May said that Novichok, the nerve agent used against ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, was developed by the Soviet Union near the end of the Cold War.

Skripal, 66, was a Russian military intelligence officer before flipping to the British side in the 1990s, going to jail in Russia in 2006 and being freed in an exchange of spies in 2010. Moscow has dismissed the suggestion it was involved in his March 4 poisoning as “a circus show.”

Tillerson, who spoke Monday by phone with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, said he’s grown “extremely concerned” about Russia, noting that he spent most of the first year of the Trump administration trying to solve problems and narrow differences with the Kremlin. He said that after a year of trying, “we didn’t get very far.

“Instead, what we’ve seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive,” Tillerson said. “And this is very, very concerning to me and others that there seems to be a certain unleashing of activity that we don’t fully understand what the objective behind that is.”

He said if the poisoning turned out to be the work of Russia’s government, “this is a pretty serious action.

“It certainly will trigger a response. I’ll leave it at that,” Tillerson said.

Britain Spy

Military forces work on a van in Winterslow, England, Monday as investigations continue into the nerve-agent poisoning of Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in Salisbury, England. (Frank Augstein/Associated Press)

Tillerson, whose relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin dates back to his days as Exxon Mobil’s CEO, has sought to work with Russia on narrow areas where the two countries could find common ground, such as a ceasefire in southwestern Syria that has largely held since last year.

But those efforts have had diminishing results. Tillerson’s efforts to persuade Moscow to stop propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and to pull out of Crimea have yielded little to no progress.

At the same time, President Donald Trump’s critics regularly accuse his administration of failing to stand up to the Kremlin, especially over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Russia hawks in Congress are particularly miffed that the State Department so far has declined to use a new law letting the U.S. slap sanctions on foreign companies or governments that do business with Russia’s defence or intelligence sectors. Those powers took effect in January, but so far no one has been punished.

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Ex-spy poisoning looks to be 'state-sponsored,' says U.K. legislator

British Prime Minister Theresa May says the ex-spy who was poisoned in Salisbury was made ill by a military-grade nerve agent of the type produced by Russia.

May said the investigation is ongoing, but that the government has concluded that it is “highly likely” that Russia is responsible for the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

She said there were two possibilities: that it was a “direct act” by the Russian state, or the Russian government lost control of the nerve agent used and allowed it into the hands of others.

Earlier in the day, a British legislator says the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter is “looking awfully like it was state-sponsored attempted murder.”

Tom Tugendhat told the BBC it is still too early to be absolutely certain. The chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee said he would be “surprised” if May does not end up blaming Russian officials for the attack.

He says the announcement may come soon. May is chairing a National Security Council meeting on Monday to hear the latest evidence.

BRITAIN-RUSSIA/

Soldiers wearing protective clothing gather after removing vehicles from a car park in Salisbury on Saturday. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain in critical condition following the March 4 nerve agent attack. They were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury. Skripal lived in the town, 140 kilometres southwest of London.

Officials have not said what nerve agent was used or who is to blame.

Skripal worked for Russian’s military intelligence service GRU before he was recruited to spy for Britain. In 2006, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in Russia for espionage. He was freed in a 2010 spy swap and settled in England.

The health implications of the attack broadened Sunday after British officials said limited traces of contamination were found in a restaurant and a pub in Salisbury.

Public health officials said the risk of others being sickened by the chemicals that put Skripal and his daughter in hospital was very low. But they advised people who had patronized the businesses during a two-day period to wash their clothes, double-bag articles for dry cleaning, and wipe down items like jewelry.

“It’s really important to understand the general public should not be concerned. There is, on the evidence currently, a very low risk.” Dr. Jenny Harries of Public Health England said at a news conference.

Authorities haven’t revealed how or where the Skripals were exposed to the nerve agent.

In Russia, suspicions over the poisoning point to Britain.

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Military personnel wearing protective suits remove a police car and other vehicles on Saturday from a public car park as they investigate the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4. (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

“If you think about it, well, the only ones for whom the poisoning of the ex-GRU colonel is advantageous are the British,” Dimtry Kiselev, one of Russia’s most powerful media figures, said during his Sunday news program.

The British motive? “Simply in order to feed their Russophobia,” Kiselev posited.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has warned that if Russia was behind the poisoning, then Britain would “respond appropriately and robustly.”

Johnson also drew parallels between the poisoning of Skripal and the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko who died in London in 2006 after drinking green tea laced with 
radioactive polonium-210.

A British public inquiry found the killing of Litvinenko had probably been approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin and carried out by two Russians, Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoy. 
Lugovoy is a former KGB bodyguard who later became a member of the Russian parliament.

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