Theresa May accuses Russia of involvement in Skripal’s poisoning, as Russian-made prohibited substance discovered

Theresa May accuses Russia of involvement in Skripal’s poisoning, as Russian-made prohibited substance discovered
Theresa May Photo: AFP

The former Colonel of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) was poisoned with Russian-made substance Novichok. The British Prime Minister demanded Moscow to provide a "plausible explanation" of what happened till the evening of March 13.

British Prime Minister Theresa May contended that the country authorities consider Russia being complicit in the assassination attempt against former GRU Colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Kommersant writes. According to May, Skripal was poisoned with nerve agent Novichok, developed in Russia. The Prime Minister gave Moscow time to explain what had happened till the evening of March 13. If the British powers are dissatisfied with the answer, the assassination will be given the status of "Russia's unlawful use of military force against Britain."

May also drew attention to the fact that the Russian authorities "consider defectors a legitimate target." The British government suspects Moscow of orchestrating the assassination of former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko.

The Prime Minister, however, noted that the British government did not rule out the inference that the Russian authorities could "lose control" over the spread of the substance used. May said that on the morning of March 12, the British Foreign Ministry summoned the Russian ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko, who was presented with an ultimatum to provide a "plausible explanation" of the incident till the evening of the next day. Otherwise, the UK authorities are ready to adopt "much more serious measures than in 2006 after the murder of Alexander Litvinenko." Then several diplomats were ousted from the country, and British intelligence agencies broke off cooperation with Russia.

Novichok nerve agent was developed in the late 1980s at the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GNIIOKhT). The authors call the substance "the strongest and unrivaled chemical weapon." Novichok is a binary chemical weapon. The substance is put in the ‘combat state’ immediately before use. Prior to this, its relatively harmless reagents are kept separately from each other. The application and development of Novichok are prohibited by international agreements, however it is extremely difficult to monitor the production of reagents without the approval of the authorities. In September 2017, the Russian authorities announced the complete elimination of all chemical weapons stockpiles in the country.

The only use of a substance similar to Novichok effect-wise was registered in 1995. Banker Ivan Kivilidi and his secretary were poisoned. The killer processed the phone receiver in the banker's office with the substance. As a result, the victims suffered all sharply aggravated chronic diseases. Kivilidi fell into a coma because of kidney failure. The dead secretary did not even touch the phone, but simply dusted in the banker's office. Before her death, she told that she had experienced "the same thing that happened to Kivilidi", thanks to which the investigation managed to understand that they had been poisoned. During the investigation, it was found out that the killer acquired the substance from an employee of the branch of GNIIOKhT in the Saratov region. The employee was subsequently convicted of abuse of authority, as he synthesized dangerous reagents illegally. The murderer also suffered from severe poisoning and clandestinely underwent treatment at Sklifosovsky Institute. Both the killer and the customer, former business partner of the banker Vladimir Khutsishvili, were handed down long terms.

The special services note that nerve agents are used if attention needs to be drawn to an attempt. The use of poisonous substances may harm people around, which, according to the source, "involves additional challenges." Professionals use "much more delicate methods," the employee remarked. When it comes to Skripal, his daughter, a policeman, who examined their house, as well as about 20 people who were in places visited by the former intelligence man and his daughter, also suffered.

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs chalked the accusations of the attempt on Skripal up to an effort to undermine the credibility of Moscow as the organizer of 2018 World Cup. "As we expected, the British, who cannot forgive Russia for the fact that it was our country that won the fair fight to host the World Cup, are particularly vigorous," the Ministry highlighted.

The source of Kommersant in state structures pointed to the need to give Russian experts the access to investigation materials. Otherwise, "no objectivity is involved," the interlocutor of the newspaper stressed. According to him, it is important for Moscow to obtain from the UK an official extract from Skripal’s medical records, and in case of his death - a full version of the conclusion by a pathologist.

GRU former Colonel Sergei Skripal, convicted in 2006 for espionage in favor of Great Britain, was poisoned on March 4, 2018 in the British city of Salisbury. The Colonel and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench near the shopping center, where they had had lunch. Currently, both victims are in a coma.

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