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Russia denies knowledge of Skripal poisoning

March 6, 2018

Moscow has denied knowing anything about the sudden illness of ex-spy Sergei Skripal. British authorities have confirmed that Skripal and his daughter are in a critical condition after exposure to an unknown substance.

A still image taken from an undated video shows Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia's GRU military intelligence service, being detained by secret service officers in an unknown location.
Image: Reuters TV/RTR

Russia on Tuesday denied any knowledge of the apparent poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain.

The 66-year-old Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped on a bench outside a shopping center in the city of Salisbury on Sunday after being exposed to an unknown substance. They are now in a critical condition.

"We see that such a tragic situation happened," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists. "But we don't have information about what could be the cause, what this person did."

Peskov said British investigators had not requested Russia's help in the matter but that "Moscow is always ready for cooperation."

He said he was unaware if Skripal was still a Russian citizen. Responding to questions on speculation that Russia was behind the incident, Peskov said: "It didn't take them long."

'Anti-Russian provocation'

Russian MP Andrei Lugovoi, who is one of the prime suspects in the 2006 poisoning of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, said that Britain "suffers from phobias" and may use the incident to harm Russia ahead of its March 18 elections.

"Because of the presidential elections, our actions in Syria, the situation with Skripal could be spun into an anti-Russian provocation," he told Interfax news agency.

'Putin kills traitors,' says Kremlin critic

However, a prominent critic of the Russian government told DW TV that the "obvious theory is that this was a Russian Kremlin organized assassination attempt."

Bill Browder – former hedge fund manager in Moscow and author of "Putin’s No. 1 Enemy" — claims that his own lawyer was tortured and killed by Russian authorities in 2009, and that another Russian colleague died under mysterious circumstances several years later. He also claims that a fellow campaigner for sanctions against Moscow was the victim of two near-fatal poisonings.

"The one thing you should understand about Putin is that he kills traitors," Browder told DW. "Anyone who is a traitor is meted out the harshest punishment. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a foreign country or in Russia."

Double agent: Skripal, a former member of Russia's GRU military intelligence service, was arrested by the Federal Security Service (FSB) for allegedly betraying dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence for money. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail but was later swapped for 10 Russian agents in a dramatic prisoner exchange at Vienna Airport in 2010.

Other family reportedly dead: Skripal then lived a relatively modest life in Salisbury. His wife died of cancer shortly after the family arriving in Britain and his son was reportedly killed in a car accident in Russia. 

The Litvinenko case: The apparent poisoning was quickly compared to the 2006 murder of ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko. He died in hospital after drinking tea laced with polonium-210 at a London hotel. A British judge found in 2016 that Russia's security services were behind the assassination and that it was likely approved by Putin.

aw/rt (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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