Kremlin Denies Involvement In Skripal Nerve Agent Attack
Syracuse, N.Y. – (CitrusTV) – On September 5, the United Kingdom named two men with suspected connections to the GRU, Russia’s national military intelligence service, in the failed March assassination attempt of a former Russian double agent and his adult daughter.
British authorities charged Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov earlier this week in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, 66, and Yulia Skripal, 33. Both victims survived and were discharged from the hospital, according to the BBC.
The father-daughter duo were found unconscious on a park bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4, after reportedly being exposed to the military-grade nerve agent Novichok. The chemical weapon is known to disrupt biological processes leading to respiratory failure and cardiac arrest.
Eyewitness Jamie Paine told the BBC he observed Ms. Skripal slumped a bench and foaming at the mouth. Paine described Skripal’s eyes as “wide open but completely white,” and said she had lost control of her bodily functions. Mr. Skirpal was reported to be jerkily waving his hands toward the sky.
Mr. Skripal, a former colonel for Russian military intelligence, was sentenced to 13 years in a labor camp in 2006 after pleading guilty to passing Russian state secrets to British intelligence agency MI6. Skripal was convicted of “high treason in the form of espionage,” and stripped of his military decorations. His cooperation with investigators led to a reduced sentence, and ultimately a 2010 pardon by then-president Dmitry Medvedev.
While the former spy and his daughter survived Novichok poisoning, British citizen Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year old mother of three died after being exposed to Novichok in June. She later died on July 8. Sturgess came into contact with the poison in the nearby town of Amesbury after touching a contaminated perfume bottle, according to Police. BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said police are under the working assumption that the container responsible for poisoning Sturgess was the same used to apply Novichok to the Skripal’s door knob outside their home just a few months earlier.
The poison bottle was a counterfeit of Nina Ricci’s “Premier Jour” with a specially adapted spray nozzle. Sturgess found the bottle in a charity bin on June 27, and became sick after applying what she thought was perfume to her wrist. The Telegraph later reported that Sturgess’ boyfriend, Charlie Rowley, was eleased from the hospital in July after he stabilized from critical condition.
At a September 12 economic conference in the city of Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East,
President Vladimir Putin categorically denied the allegations that Petrov and Boshirov were involved in any criminal activity.
“We know who these people are, we have found them,” Putin said. “There is nothing special or criminal about it, I can assure you.”
Putin told panel moderators that the men were Russian civilians before publicly urging the men to come forward to speak with the media. The next day, two men resembling individuals recorded on Britain’s expansive CCTV cameras around the time of the March 4 attack appeared on Russia’s state-run television network, RT.
They dismissed any connection to the Skripals, calling the situation an unfortunate coincidence.
“I think it’s pretty much nonsense,” Petrov said, when asked if they had brought any poisonous substances with them into the UK. The men described their trip to Salisbury as an innocent tourist excursion.
“Our friends had been suggesting for quite a long time that we visit this wonderful city,” Petrov said.
In a statement to the media, James Slack, the spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, lambasted the RT interview and asserted that it contained lies and “blatant fabrications.”
“More importantly,” Slack said, “they are deeply offensive to the victims and loved ones of this horrific attack.”
Dr. Brian Taylor is the chair of political science at Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. Taylor said he found the RT interview strange, unsure of what the true motive behind its production was.
“It looked to me like it was strung together haphazardly,” Taylor said, positing that the Russian government may have been under time pressure to hastily produce the two men Putin claimed to have identified the day before.
“I don’t think it helped them at all in terms of British public opinion or Western public opinion. In fact, there’s decent evidence that it didn’t help them domestically either,” Taylor said.
UK Secretary for Foreign Affairs Jeremy Hunt called for sanctions against Russia for the Skripal poisonings back in August in an interview with the BBC. Hunt implored the European Union to match the “comprehensive” response from the United States government, whose first round of punishments against Russia were announced on August 8.
Those sanctions came into full effect on August 27. The initial sanctions from the U.S. limited the sale of defense and security goods to Russia, as well as reducing foreign aid provisions and U.S. government loans for Russian exports.
Assistant Secretary of State Manisha Singh told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee that the first round of penalties cost the Russian economy “tens of billions of dollars.”
Singh told the congressional hearing that the U.S. is gearing up to impose a second punishing round of sanctions if Russia failed to comply with international chemical weapons laws by a November deadline.
All of the E.U.’s leadership will be present for the September 20-21 Salzburg Summit in Austria. Heads of state for the 28 E.U members will discuss internal security, immigration and Brexit during the two-day informal gathering.
Theresa May is expected to brief the coalition on the Skripal case. British efforts to enact harsher sanctions may fall short, requiring the unanimous agreement of all 28 leaders.
“We will also push for new EU sanctions regimes against those responsible for cyber-attacks and gross human rights violations, and for new listings under the existing regime against Russia,” May said in a September 5 statement to Parliament.