World News

British Investigators Visit Graves of Russian Ex-Spy’s Wife and Son

Posted March 9, 2018 6:15 p.m. EST

LONDON — Britain authorities investigating the poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal, and his daughter visited the graves of Skripal’s wife and son in the cathedral town of Salisbury, England, on Friday.

Dressed in large hazardous-material suits, the investigators began collecting evidence at Skripal’s house in the town and erected a blue forensic tent around the grave of the son. The police said they had requested military assistance to “remove a number of vehicles and objects from the scene.”

Skripal’s wife, Lyudmila, 59, died in 2012 of uterine cancer, according to records from the National Health Service. His son Alexander, 43, died last year.

The authorities did not provide details, saying only that they had not exhumed any bodies, but the forensic activities at the London Road Cemetery intensified speculation about the poisonings.

Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia S. Skripal, 33, were found unconscious Sunday afternoon on a bench outside a shopping center in the southern English town.

The police announced that the two had been poisoned with a nerve agent difficult to produce outside a government laboratory, heightening suspicions that Russia had played a role.

On Friday, army weapons experts and scores of troops were deployed to Salisbury to assist in the investigation. The 180 military personnel dispatched included the Royal Tank Regiment, Royal Marines, and chemical weapons specialists and bomb disposal units.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, on Friday denied that the government was involved in the poisonings but offered assistance in the investigation.

“We have not heard a single fact; we only watch footage on TV, where our colleagues say with serious faces and with gusto that if it is Russia, then a response will follow that Russia will remember forever,” he said, according to Interfax. He added: “It is not serious. It is pure propaganda and the whipping up of hysteria.”

But a day earlier, a presenter on Russia’s Channel One news program struck a different note, saying — without mentioning names — that the poisonings should serve as a warning to Russians considering betraying their country.

“The profession of a traitor is one of the most dangerous in the world,” said the presenter, Kirill Kleimenov, adding: “Don’t choose Britain as a place to live.”

In 2006, Skripal was convicted in Russia of being a double agent and secretly passing classified information to British intelligence. In 2010, he was released from prison and sent to Britain as part of a spy exchange with Western agencies.

The poisonings also affected some investigators, officials said. Detective Sgt. Nick Bailey, remains in the hospital in stable condition. Ian Blair, a former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, told the BBC that Bailey appeared to have been sickened when he went to Skripal’s house, suggesting that the nerve agent may have been released there.