World News

Former Russian Spy Poisoned by Nerve Agent, British Police Say

Posted March 7, 2018 1:05 p.m. EST

LONDON — A former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent in England this week, British authorities said Wednesday, heightening suspicions that the episode was an assassination attempt by a national government, amid rampant speculation that Russia was responsible.

The development forces the British government to confront the possibility that once again, an attack on British soil was carried out by the government of President Vladimir Putin, which Western intelligence officials say has, with alarming frequency, ordered the killing of people who have crossed it.

In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian agent who was harshly critical of Putin, was fatally poisoned in London with a rare radioactive metal; in 2016, an official inquiry concluded that he was killed by Russian operatives, probably with Putin’s approval.

“This is being treated as a major incident involving attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent,” said Mark Rowley, Britain’s chief police official for counterterrorism and international security.

The former spy, Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, “were targeted specifically,” he said.

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence, and Yulia Skripal suddenly became severely ill Sunday in Salisbury and remain in critical condition. Some of the emergency workers who went to the scene where they were found also took ill, and one police officer “is now also in a serious condition in hospital,” Rowley said.

Though officials insist that it is far too soon to lay blame, from the moment news broke suspicions have focused on the Kremlin. Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence, was convicted in 2006 of selling secrets to the British and then released from prison and sent to Britain in a 2010 prisoner swap.

His brother and his son both have died in the past two years in what family members have said were mysterious circumstances.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the attack, and on Wednesday, Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that suggestions of Russian culpability were part of an orchestrated campaign to drive a wedge between Russia and Britain.

“Before it was clear what happened, the traditional speculation was being put about,” she said.