Kremlin says has no information on ‘tragic’ illness of former spy
Sergei Skripal is fighting for his life after collapsing in a shopping mall in Salisbury
Police officers stand outside the Salisbury home of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, after he and and a woman in her 30s were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury on Sunday. Photograph: Ben Mitchell/PA Wire
The Kremlin said on Tuesday it had no information about what caused the illness of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy and double agent, who is fighting for his life in a Wiltshire hospital after collapsing in a Salisbury shopping mall.
The Russian president Vladimir Putin had no information about Mr Skripal’s dealings in the UK or the possible reasons for the “tragic situation”, Dmitri Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman told Russian news agencies on Tuesday. Moscow “was always prepared” to co-operate with the UK in investigating the case, he added.
A former Russian military intelligence colonel, Mr Skripal has been living in England since being included in an elaborate spy swap in 2010. At the time he was serving a 13-year sentence in a high security Russian jail for handing secrets to Britain’s M16.
Russian officials complained on Tuesday that the widespread suspicion voiced by western media that the Kremlin was somehow involved in Mr Skripal’s malaise reflected entrenched Russophobia.
The Russian embassy in London appealed to the UK to provide more public information about the Skripal investigation and “put an end to the demonisation of Russia”.
The embassy statement came as the British foreign secretary Boris Johnson told parliament that the Skripal case echoed the poisoning of another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, who died in a London hospital in 2006. Russia had become a “malign and disruptive force”, Mr Johnson said.
A UK inquiry found in 2016 that two former Russian spies, Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun, met Litvinenko in a London hotel and slipped a deadly radioactive substance into his tea. The two men have denied wrongdoing.
In comments to Russian media on Tuesday, Mr Kovtun said that Mr Skripal could be a victim of a UK plot to blacken the Kremlin’s reputation ahead of the March 18th Russian presidential election. “It could of course be a provocation by British special services aimed at discrediting first and foremost the Russian organs of power on the eve of the presidential election,” he told Interfax.
Mr Lugovoi, who now sits in the Russian parliament, reminded reporters of Mr Skripal’s murky past as a counter agent before he received political asylum in the UK. “Something is always happening to Russian citizens who are either fleeing justice or for some other reason choose a way of life in the name of changing their motherland,” he said. “As long as Britain admits all kinds of scum, all kinds of rubbish to its territory the more problems it will have.”
Mr Lugovoi accused the UK of suffering from Russophobia. “If something happens to Russians they immediately look for Russian fingermarks.”