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‘You’re Playing With Fire And You Will Be Sorry’ Russia Warns Britain Over Nerve Agent Attack

Ben Glaze
<span>Russian diplomat Vassily Nebenzia</span> © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Russian diplomat Vassily Nebenzia  

Russia lashed out at Britain tonight, warning: “You are playing with fire, and you’ll be sorry.”

Speaking at a special meeting of the UNSC, called by Moscow, permanent representative Vassily Nebenzia claimed the only way victims Sergey and Yulia Skripal could have survived a novichok attack was if an antidote was available nearby.

He told the council it was “lucky” that Porton Down, which he claimed was “well know for producing chemical weapons” was nearby.

Mr Nebenzia claimed Britain was waging a “coordinated campaign – prepared in advance – to discredit and delegitimize Russia.”

And he branded claims Russia was behind the attack, a “theatre of the absurd”, asking British representatives: “Couldn’t you come up with a better fake story?”

It comes as poisoning victim Yulia Skripal today said her strength is “growing daily” after the nerve agent attack which left her and her father in intensive care.

In her first comments since the shock chemical weapon atrocity, Russian citizen Yulia said the past month had been “somewhat disorientating”.

And British officials she had so far rejected the Kremlin’s offer of help.

The UN Security Council meeting will be streamed live here as it happens. Stay with us

a man wearing a suit and tie: Credits: PA            © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: PA  

On a day of dramatic developments, Russia’s ambassador to the UK suggested Britain could be behind “strange” Russian deaths on UK soil.

Alexander Yakovenko denied the Kremlin was behind the Salisbury chemical weapon atrocity.

Speaking at a bizarre 90-minute press conference: “We are not trolling, we are puzzled.”

Meanwhile, UK spooks are confident they have pinpointed the location of the Russian chemical weapons lab that manufactured the nerve agent used in the attack.

A Whitehall source told The Times: “We knew pretty much by the time of the first Cobra (the emergency co-ordination briefing that took place the same week) that it was overwhelmingly likely to come from Russia.”

Security Minister Ben Wallace insisted it was beyond reasonable doubt that Russia was behind the assault.

He told the BBC: “That nerve agent has been identified as being manufactured, we believe, in Russia and we believe that the Novichok type of nerve agent is only capable of being produced by a nation state – and then we add that to intelligence we hold, we add that to some of the police investigations that’s going on right now, and we can say that roads lead to Russia, that we are beyond reasonable doubt of the view that the Russian state is behind this.”

He also said that while Jeremy Corbyn had seen more intelligence “than the average backbench MP” through a Privy Council briefing, the Labour leader had been denied access to some material.

He added: “The circle of who gets to see very sensitive information is very small because if you leak it or it gets out, people’s lives are put at risk.”

Labour accused Mr Wallace of “playing party politics” by suggesting Mr Corbyn could not be trusted.

a person with the mouth open: Credits: PA             © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: PA  

“This is completely irresponsible and another attempt by the Tories to deflect criticism from Boris Johnson’s blatant attempt to mislead the public,” a spokesman said.

“Ben Wallace should be acting in the national interest, not playing party politics with the country’s security.”

While the Kremlin stepped up efforts to undermine the UK’s case, Yulia Skripal revealed she was getting better following the March 4 attack.

In a statement issued by Scotland Yard, she said: “I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily.

“I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received.

“I have many people to thank for my recovery and would especially like to mention the people of Salisbury that came to my aid when my father and I were incapacitated.

“Further than that, I would like to thank the staff at Salisbury District Hospital for their care and professionalism.

“I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you’ll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence.”

Moscow has offered consular assistance to Yulia.

But a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are pleased that Yulia’s condition has improved and paid tribute to the medical staff who have been treating her and Mr Skripal since they were attacked.

“We have conveyed to Ms Skripal the Russian Embassy’s offer of consular assistance.

“Ms Skripal is now able to choose if and when to take up this offer, but to date, she has not done so.”

Russian ambassador to London, Alexander Yakovenko denied that Russia had ever produced the nerve agent used in Salisbury.

He told a press conference at its London outpost: “The whole story about Novichok started in the United States in the ‘90s.

“It is nothing to do with Russia. We never produced it, we never had Novichok.

“This is a creation of some other countries and some scientists.”

And he raised fresh fears over the deaths of a string of Russian citizens on British soil over the past decade, some of which are set to be re-investigated by police.

Highlighting the March 12 killing of Nikolay Glushkov, 68, who was found dead at his home in south-west London after “compression to the neck”, the envoy said: “If we take the last 10 years, so many Russian citizens died here in the UK under very strange circumstances.

a man smiling for the camera: Credits: AFP             © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: AFP  

“The last one was Glushkov.

“He was strangled – as it was said officially – on March 12.

“He was a Russian businessman – a Russian citizen, not a British citizen – and his case is also classified. We don’t have any access to the investigation, we don’t know anything. We want to know the truth.

“My question is ‘Why is it happening here?’.”

Earlier, Russia’s foreign minister blasted the probe into the Skripals’ poisoning – comparing it to a “fairy tale” from children’s fantasy book Alice in Wonderland.

Sergei Lavrov likened the “unsubstantiated accusations” against the Kremlin to a scene in Lewis Carroll’s classic novel.

He said: “In Carroll’s book, the Queen demands that first the accused be sentenced and then the jury will make their verdict.”

 

He added that “adult people do not believe in fairy tales.”

<span>Russian diplomat Vassily Nebenzia</span>

Mr Lavrov spoke out as US officials were pictured leaving their Moscow embassy after being booted out in the latest tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.

The envoys and their families, along with pets, were seen boarding coaches at their compound before setting off for the airport.     (Mirror)

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BREAKING: Nerve Agent Attack: UK Experts Cannot Identify Novichok Used In Attack Came From Russia

The Skripals              © Other The Skripals
British scientists cannot prove that the novichok nerve agent used to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter was made in Russia, the military laboratory which tested it has said.
Experts at the Porton Down research laboratory have been unable to establish the chemical’s country of origin, the chief executive of the Ministry of Defence facility told Sky News.

The admission comes after Russia demanded the UK present “every possible element of evidence” that it was responsible for the suspected assassination attempt that has triggered a global diplomatic row and plunged Moscow’s relationship with many western nations to lows not seen since the Cold War.

The Kremlin denies any involvement in the 4 March attack, which left Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia fighting for life, but the British government has said there was “no other plausible explanation”.

Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory near Salisbury, Wiltshire, said the nerve agent required “extremely sophisticated methods to create, something only in the capabilities of a state actor”.

But he added scientists could not say it was produced in Russia.

He said: “We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify that it was a military-grade nerve agent. “We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to the government who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to.”     (The Independent)

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Russia To Expel 150 Western Diplomats, Closed U.S Consulate In St. Perteburg |RN

By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
 (Video provided by Wochit News)

 

LONDON — Intensifying Russia’s clash with Europe and the United States, the Kremlin on Thursday announced that it would expel 150 Western diplomats, and close the United States Consulate in St. Petersburg.

The tit-for-tat action was in retaliation for the expulsion of more than 150 Russian officials from other countries — which was itself a reaction to a nerve-agent attack on British soil that Britain and its allies have blamed on Moscow.

The United States ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., was summoned to the Kremlin, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov announced. Sixty American diplomats will be expelled from Russia — the same as the number of Russian diplomats whom Washington has expelled.  The Americans were given until April 5 to leave the country.

a car parked in front of a building: The United States consulate in Saint Petersburg, Russia, will be closed, the Kremlin announced.© Olga Maltseva/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images The United States consulate in Saint Petersburg, Russia, will be closed, the Kremlin announced.

The crisis over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent and his daughter has driven tensions between the Kremlin and the West to their highest pitch in decades. The tit-for-tat responses raise the prospect of further, more serious escalations, either public or clandestine.

Relations were already rocky, over Moscow’s roles in the wars in Syria and Ukraine, its forcible annexation of Crimea, its meddling in elections in the United States and elsewhere, the assassination of Kremlin foes in Russia and abroad, cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns against other countries and what Western officials have described as a broad, largely covert effort to destabilize and discredit liberal democracies.

Russia as a whole, and many powerful Russians individually, are already under economic sanctions by the West, and London has vowed to tighten its scrutiny and control of the vast Russian wealth — much of it held by allies of President Vladimir V. Putin — that has flowed into Britain in recent years. Britain has also said it will re-examine several suspicious deaths of Kremlin opponents.

Mr Putin and his government have denied any involvement in the March 4 attack on Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, and have tried to cast blame on Britain, the United States, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and others.

The Skripals were found unconscious is a busy shopping area in the small English city of Salisbury, where Mr Skripal lives. He remains hospitalized in critical condition, but his daughter’s health has improved, British officials announced on Thursday. British officials say that hundreds of people could have been exposed to the toxin used against them.

Prime Minister Theresa May and her government contend that they were poisoned with one of an extremely powerful class of nerve agents known as “novichok,” developed by Soviet scientists in the 1970s and ’80s. They claim to have solid evidence that Russia was probably behind the attack, and that Mr Putin himself probably approved it.

The British government has not made its evidence public but has shared it with its major allies, who have said that they agree with London’s conclusions. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body that polices a chemical weapons ban treaty, is investigating.

President Trump, who has long been loath to criticize Mr Putin or his government, has made no public statement on the nerve-agent attack or who was to blame for it. But officials in his administration have publicly backed Ms May’s statements, and on Monday the president ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials who work in the United States, and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.
More than 20 other countries, primarily European, also announced expulsions on Monday, and a few more joined in on Tuesday, as did NATO headquarters in Brussels. The expulsions were a remarkable show of international unity and coordination, in solidarity with Britain, which had already forced 23 Russian officials to leave the country; Moscow responded by expelling 23 Britons.

In all, 27 countries have ejected more than 150 Russians, including people listed by their embassies and consulates as diplomats, and military and cultural attaches. Western officials say that many of the Russians are actually spies and that the expulsions will hinder Russian espionage efforts.

Mr Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence, was imprisoned in Russia for selling secrets to Britain. He was sent to Britain in 2010 as part of a spy swap. Why he would be targeted years later is unclear, but political and security analysts have said that the attack served as a warning to those who would cross Mr Putin that even in exile, they are never beyond the Kremlin’s reach.

On March 12, Nikolai A. Glushkov, a former Russian business executive and critic of the government, died suddenly at his home in London, and the police are treating the case as a murder investigation.   (The New York Times)

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BREAKING: US Expels 60 Russian Diplomats, Germany, Poland Follow In Response To Spy Poisoning

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam © Reuters U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam  

Donald Trump has expelled 60 Russian diplomats from America as punishment for the Salisbury poisoning and to protect the country from spying.

Donald Tusk, president of the EU council, has announced that 14 member states have decided to expel Russian diplomats on Monday.

File photo of Sergei Skripal                  © Getty File photo of Sergei Skripal

EU leaders agreed last week it was highly likely Russia was behind the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in the UK.Some 48 diplomats at the Russian embassy have been asked to leave and 12 Russians who work at the United Nations. The Russian consulate in Seattle will also be closed.

File photo of Putin              © Getty File photo of Putin

Senior US administration officials said the Russians being expelled were intelligence officers who are being “cloaked” by their diplomatic status.The US officials accused Russia of a “reckless attempt” to murder British citizens on UK soil and said the attack would not go unpunished.

File photo dated 08/07/17 of Prime Minister Theresa May holding talks with US President Donald Trump on the margins of the G20 summit in Hamburg. © PA File photo dated 08/07/17 of Prime Minister Theresa May holding talks with US President Donald Trump on the margins of the G20 summit in Hamburg.

 

US officials said that the lives of “countless” innocent people including children had been put at risk by the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

They also blamed the Kremlin directly for the attack.

‘World’s patience wearing thin with Putin’

A senior US administration official said: “This was a reckless attempt by the government to murder a British citizen and his daughter on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent. It cannot go unanswered.

Prime Minister Theresa May, with Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, in Salisbury © PA Prime Minister Theresa May, with Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Kier Pritchard, in Salisbury

“The Salisbury attack was only the latest in a long series of Russian efforts to undermine international peace and stability.

“The Russian government has shown malicious contempt for the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide. It has repeatedly sought to subvert and discredit Western institutions. These efforts are ongoing.

Military personnel in College Street Car Park in Salisbury           © PA Military personnel in College Street Car Park in Salisbury

“Today we stand in solidarity with America’s closest ally, the United Kingdom. To the Russian government, we say: ‘When you attack our friends you will face serious consequences.”

The diplomats and their families have seven days to leave the country. Moscow’s ambassador to Washington warned the US was “destroying what little is left of relations with Russia”.

Barriers erected outside a Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury         © PA Barriers erected outside a Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury

A number of European states, including Germany and Poland, have announced similar moves this morning. The German foreign ministry confirmed Berlin has expelled four Russian diplomats over the Salisbury attack while Poland has said it is also expelling four of the state’s diplomats.

Russian diplomatic staff based in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Estonia have also been asked to leave.

Personnel in hazmat suits work to secure a tent covering a bench in the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury © PA Personnel in hazmat suits work to secure a tent covering a bench in the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury

US officials said the 60 Russians were part more than 100 spies operating in America. They said they would make decisions in the future about what to do with those remaining.

Mr Trump has not discussed the move with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. US officials did not rule out the possibility of new economic sanctions on Russia as punishment for Salisbury, saying instead when asked that there was nothing to announce.

The action comes after more than a fortnight of mixed messages over America’s willingness to take a tough line on Russia for the Salisbury poisoning.

The White House declined to point the finger at Russia explicitly the day Theresa May linked the Kremlin with the attack during an address in the House of Commons.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam

 

Mr Trump also failed to mention that attack during a phone call with Mr Putin last week and at times has not matched the critical rhetoric of cabinet colleagues and officials.Senior US administration officials pushed back on the suggestion they had been sending “mixed messages” on Monday, saying that they stood with Britain over the attack.        (The Telegraph)

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Russian Ambassador Fingers British Lab As Probable Source Of Nerve Agent That Poisoned Ex-Spy

Dan Bloom
a man wearing a suit and tie: Credits: X00380            © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: X00380  

A British lab could be the source of the deadly nerve agent that poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal, a top Russian diplomat has suggested.

Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, claimed there could be a link between the Novichok and world-class chemical weapons lab Porton Down because it is only eight miles from Salisbury.

Slamming the Tory Defence Secretary he added: “Russia is not going to shut up and will certainly not go away.”

The British government dismissed his claims as “nonsense”, saying they contain “not an ounce of truth”.

It comes as Theresa May considers sweeping new sanctions against Russian oligarchs two weeks after Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia were left in a critical condition in Salisbury.

The Prime Minister said the Russian state was behind the attack – the first use of a chemical weapon in Europe since World War 2.

She accused the regime of Vladimir Putin – who is standing for re-election today – of a “flagrant breach of international law” and said the nerve agent was of a “type developed by Russia”.

a person standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Credits: AFP             © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: AFP

Yet Mr Chizhov told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show Russia had “nothing to do” with the poisoning.He questioned how Britain worked out Novichok was responsible “so quickly,” claiming “it can only mean they had some standard” to compare against.

Asked how the nerve agent came to be used in Salisbury he told the BBC: “When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories.

“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research.

“And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”

Pressed on whether he was claiming Porton Down was responsible he shrugged: “I don’t know, I don’t know… I don’t have evidence of anything being used.”

a large machine in a room: Credits: Daily Mirror           © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Daily Mirror

But he added: “There were certain specialists, including some scientists who today claim to be responsible for creating some nerve agents, that have been whisked out of Russia and are currently residing in the United Kingdom.”

The Foreign Office said there was “not an ounce of truth” in his suggestion of a link to Porton Down.

a person standing in a kitchen: Credits: Daily Mirror           © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Daily Mirror

A spokesperson told the BBC: “It’s just another futile attempt from the Russian state to divert the story away from the facts – that Russia has acted in flagrant breach of its international obligations.”Britain triggered a diplomatic stand-off this week by booting 23 Russian diplomats out of London and severing high-level ties.

Moscow hit back yesterday by expelling 23 Brits, no longer allowing the UK to open a consulate in St Petersburg and terminating the British Council’s activities in Russia.

Experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are set to arrive in Britain tomorrow to test samples of the nerve agent, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.

a man wearing a helmet: Credits: Daily Mirror            © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: Daily Mirror

Mr Chizhov claimed Russia has never produced Novichok, saying it had “no stockpiles whatsoever” of any nerve agent and “Russia has stopped production of any chemical agents back in 1992”.

The ambassador said Skripal was a “traitor” but claimed he is now “almost forgotten” and was “officially pardoned by a Presidential decree”.

He condemned Britain for “flatly refusing” Moscow access to the nerve agent, which he said breached international protocol.

Credits: PA           © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: PA

Mrs May, set to chair a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday, told Tory activists on Saturday: “We will consider our next steps in the coming days.”

Those reportedly include emergency laws to make it easier to seize money laundered through Britain by Russian residents; a stronger visa regime to stop Vladimir Putin’s cronies travelling to London, and forcing Russian oligarchs in the UK to account for “unexplained” wealth.

Banks, energy firms and water companies are reportedly on “maximum alert” to the threat of a cyber-attack.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Credits: AFP            © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: AFP

Boris Johnson will seek to rally the support of the other 27 EU foreign ministers at a regular summit tomorrow.

The poisoning is not on the official agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, but ministers will discuss Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Mr Johnson will have a chance to meet them on the sidelines.

Today Mr Johnson hit back at Russia’s counter-measures as “futile”, saying “resisting a bully is always risky” but it is the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Britain should “pull the plug” on state-funded, UK-based TV channel Russia Today.

She said the channel spouts “absurd conspiracies” and “poisons our public discourse”, adding: “Russia is industrialising false information: less an iron curtain these days than a web of lies”.   (Mirror)

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Russian Exile Nikolai Glushkov Found Dead At His Home In London |RN

Luke Harding

A Russian exile who was close friends with the late oligarch Boris Berezovsky has been found dead in his London home, according to friends.

Nikolai Glushkov was discovered by his family and friends late on Monday night, aged 68. The cause of death is not yet clear. One of his friends, the newspaper editor Damian Kudryavtsev, posted the news on his Facebook page.

Without confirming the man’s name, the Metropolitan police said the counter-terrorism command unit was leading the investigation into the death “as a precaution because of associations that the man is believed to have had”.

It said there was no evidence at present to suggest a link to the incident in Salisbury, where Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain in a critical condition.

“An investigation is underway following the death of a man in his 60s in Kingston borough,” they said police, who were called by the London ambulance service at 10.46pm to reports of a man found dead at a residential address in New Malden.

In the 1990s, Glushkov worked for the state airline Aeroflot and Berezovsky’s LogoVAZ car company. In 1999, as Berezovsky fell out with Vladimir Putin and fled to the UK, Glushkov was charged with money-laundering and fraud. He spent five years in jail and was freed in 2004.

Nikolai Glushkov is believed to have been found by his family   © Facebook Nikolai Glushkov is believed to have been found by his family

In recent years, Glushkov had lived in London, where he received political asylum. In 2011, he gave evidence at the court case brought by Berezovsky against fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich, who remained on good terms with the Kremlin.

Glushkov told the court he had effectively been taken “hostage” by Putin’s administration, which wanted to pressure Berezovsky to sell his TV station ORT.

Berezovsky accused Abramovich of cheating him out of $5bn (£3.2bn) and claimed they had been partners in the 1990s in an oil firm, Sibneft. Abramovich denied this. The judge, Mrs Justice Gloster, rejected the claim and described Berezovsky as “deliberately dishonest”.

Glushkov was deeply unhappy with the judgment and launched a formal appeal, citing “bias”. Meanwhile, Berezovsky disappeared from public life. In March 2013, he was found dead at his ex-wife’s home in Berkshire. Police believe he committed suicide. His friends were not so certain, with a coroner recording an open verdict.

Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov found dead at his London home  © Microsoft ICE Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov found dead at his London home

Speaking to the Guardian, Glushkov said he was extremely sceptical that Berezovsky who was found hanged in a bathroom had died of natural causes. “I’m definite Boris was killed. I have quite different information from what is being published in the media,” he said.

He noted that a large number of Russian exiles including Berezovsky, and Berezovsky’s close friend Alexander Litvinenko, had died under mysterious circumstances. “Boris was strangled. Either he did it himself or with the help of someone. [But] I don’t believe it was suicide,” Glushkov said.

He added: “Too many deaths [of Russian emigres] have been happening.”

Glushkov continued to investigate the circumstances surrounding Berezovsky’s death for some months. He conceded that in the period before his death they had quarrelled. In 2013 Glushkov emailed a friend: “I have a lot of new facts that are of great interest.”
Glushkov has two grown-up children, Natasha and Dima, and an ex-wife who lives in Moscow. It is understood that he had split in recent years from a partner. Natasha is believed to live in the UK.

Nikolai Glushkov is believed to have been found by his family

In 2017, during a trial in absentia in Russia, Glushkov was sentenced to eight years in prison for stealing $123m from the company.

The Met police said the man’s next of kin had been informed.

“Whilst we believe we know the identity of the deceased, formal identification is yet to take place. The death is currently being treated as an unexplained.”  (The Guardian)

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Hunt For ‘Blonde’ Woman Seen On CCTV Minutes Before Russian Spy Was Found Collapsed

Sean Morrison
              © Provided by Independent Print Limited

A hunt is underway for a woman with blonde hair seen on CCTV shortly before former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter was found collapsed after a suspected assassination attempt.

The footage showed the young woman, carrying a red handbag, walking beside an older man not far from the bench where the pair were discovered in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon.

a sign on a pole: spy1a.jpg                    © Provided by Independent Print Limited spy1a.jpg  

It was initially thought the CCTV images were of former double agent Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, shortly before they fell ill after being exposed to an unknown substance.

But a witness who had seen the pair before they collapsed has now reportedly claimed that Yulia is not blonde, but had red hair when she was seen in the city with her father.

a woman posing for a picture: yuliaskripal.jpg               © Provided by Independent Print Limited yuliaskripal.jpg  

According to reports, officials said they fear the ex-spy’s daughter was “collateral damage” as detectives continued to investigate the theory that a Kremlin assassin carried out a hit, possibly by spraying them with a substance as they sat together on a bench.

The pair remained critically ill in hospital on Tuesday night as Scotland Yard counter-terror detectives took over the Wiltshire Police inquiry into the suspected attack.

 

The deaths of Mr Skripal’s wife Liudmila from cancer in 2012 and his son Alexander, 44, last year in St Petersburg will also be considered as part of the Met Police investigation, the Times reported.

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, is to chair a meeting of the Cobra crisis committee today in connection with the suspected assassination. This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May faced growing pressure to be ready to take on Russian leader Vladimir Putin amid the investigation.

&nbsp;                      © PA   It has not yet been confirmed if Russia is behind the attack.

Mr Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence to M15, and his daughter were found unconscious in the street in the city’s town centre before being rushed to the hospital.

Police outside the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury                           © PA Police outside the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury  

The ex-spy’s relatives had told the BBC Russian Service that he believed the Russia special services would come after him at any time. An anonymous relative was quoted as saying “he knew it would end badly and that he would not be left alone”.

More details began to emerge yesterday about the mysterious collapse of the pair, which has sparked a diplomatic war of words between Britain and Russia.

&nbsp;           © PA    

Relations between the UK and the Kremlin soured after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson went on the offensive in the House of Commons.

One line of inquiry is that Mr Skripal could have inhaled the deadly chemical after being attacked in the street near the Maltings shopping centre, the Daily Mail reported. It is believed his daughter could have come into contact with the substance while trying to help.

Another possibility is that the pair’s drinks were spiked in the nearby Mill pub, where they are believed to have gone following a meal in a Zizzi restaurant. (Evening Standard)

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Former Russian Spy Critically Ill In UK ‘After Exposure To Mystery Substance’ |RN

Luke Harding, Steven Morris and Caroline Bannock
Sergei Skripal pictured in 2006.              © AP Sergei Skripal pictured in 2006.

 

One of the two people critically ill in hospital in Salisbury after “suspected exposure to an unknown substance” is a Russian man who was exchanged in a high-profile “spy swap” in 2010, the Guardian understands.

Sergei Skripal, 66, was one of four Russians exchanged for 10 deep covers “sleeper” agents planted by Moscow in the US.

Wiltshire police said that a man in his 60s and a woman in her 30s were found unconscious on a bench in the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday afternoon.

Temporary assistant chief constable Craig Holden said that the pair were believed to have been known to each other and were in a critical condition.

He added: “This has not been declared as a counter-terrorism incident and we would urge people not to speculate. “However, I must emphasise that we retain an open mind and we will continue to review this position.”

A passerby, Freya Church, saw the pair at the shopping centre. She told the BBC: “On the bench, there was a couple – an older guy and a younger girl. She was leant in on him. It looked like she’d passed out. He was doing some strange hand movements, looking up to the sky. I felt anxious like I should step in but they looked so out of it. They looked like they had been taking something quite strong.”

Zizzi restaurant on Castle Street in the city centre has been closed in connection with the incident “as a precaution” while the investigation continues, police said.

“Public Health England are aware of this and have reiterated that, based on the evidence to date, there is no known risk to the public’s health. However, as a precaution they have advised that if you feel ill contact the NHS on 111 … [or] 999.”

A police van was outside Skripal’s home in Salisbury on Monday night. James Puttock, a neighbour, said that he had lived in the area for more than seven years. He was “very quiet”, he said. “If I see him on the street I say hello. Police have been here since Sunday afternoon. They’re in the house asking questions now.”

Puttock, 47, added: “He [Skripal] said hello if he walked past, and seemed like a nice chap. When he moved in he invited us all over for a housewarming party – I imagine he invited the whole street.

“He had been here for quite a while. People came and went from the house but I didn’t pay much attention.

“He was always walking past, but he did sometimes drive his BMW 3 Series. He never really looked smart, he looked very casual.”

Former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko on his death bed in hospital SAFE TO USE© Microsoft ICE Former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko on his deathbed in hospital SAFE TO USE

The sudden and unexplained illness will invite comparisons with the poisoning in 2006 of another Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, whose death sparked a major international incident.

Skripal is a former Russian army colonel who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian agents working undercover in Europe to MI6 in 2006. He arrived in the UK as part of a high-profile spy swap in 2010.

He was sentenced in August 2006 in Russia to 13 years in jail for spying for Britain after being convicted of “high treason in the form of espionage”. Russian prosecutors said he had been paid $100,000 (£72,000) by MI6 for information he had been supplying since the 1990s when he was a serving officer.

He was flown to the UK as part of an exchange that involved the notorious group of deep cover “sleeper” agents planted by Russia in the US, which included Anna Chapman, a diplomat’s daughter, being taken to Moscow. It had been assumed that Skripal had been given a new identity, home, and pension.

However, Land Registry documents show his house was registered in his real name and was bought for £260,000 with no mortgage on 12 August 2011, just over a year after the spy swap. Igor Sutyagin, who was swapped at the same time as Skripal and is now in the UK, said it was too early to tell whether Skripal was the victim of foul play.

“We don’t know. It’s all hypothetical,” he told the Guardian. But Sutyagin said the Kremlin’s view of defectors was clear. “Vladimir Putin was once asked what type of people populate the world. He said, traitors and enemies. I was told once by a Russian diplomat in London that Putin compared me to Judas. That is their attitude.”

"More than a thousand people were working and are still working" at the US embassy and consulates, Putin said in an interview with Rossia-24 television: <span>Some in Russia suggested the Salisbury incident was a British attempt to discredit Putin, who is all but certain to win a new six-year term of office at this month&rsquo;s ballot.&nbsp;</span>© Provided by AFP Some in Russia suggested the Salisbury incident was a British attempt to discredit Putin, who is all but certain to win a new six-year term of office at this month’s ballot. 

Sutyagin said he had chatted with Skripal for several hours when they were flown to Austria in 2010 as part of the spy swap.

“He talked about his family. It seemed to me it was his family which was his major joy.” They didn’t keep in touch, Sutyagin said, adding that Skripal’s career profile suggested he had served abroad undercover as an officer with military intelligence. Earlier on Monday there were suggestions that fentanyl, a synthetic opioid many times stronger than heroin, which can be fatal in small doses, may have been involved in the incident.

Litvinenko – a former officer with the FSB spy agency – fell ill in November 2006 after drinking a cup of tea laced with radioactive polonium. He met his killers in a ground-floor bar of the Millennium hotel in Mayfair, central London. The pair were Andrei Lugovoi – a former KGB officer turned businessman, who is now a deputy in Russia’s state Duma – and Dmitry Kovtun, a childhood friend of Lugovoi’s from a Soviet military family.

Litvinenko’s murder caused international scandal and led to years of estrangement between Moscow and London.

Putin denied all involvement and refused to extradite either of the killers from Moscow. A public inquiry in 2015 and 2016 heard five months of evidence, including secret submissions from UK spy agencies. Its chairman, Sir Robert Owen, concluded that the FSB had murdered Litvinenko, assigning Lugovoi and Kovtun to carry out the mission.

Owen also ruled that Putin had “probably approved” the operation, together with the FSB’s then chief Nikolai Patrushev. Alex Goldfarb, a friend of Litvinenko who helped him escape Russia in 2000, said the Skripal case was suggestive of a Russian plot.

“What’s interesting now is that this happens just before Russia’s presidential election,” he said. “Putin awarded Lugovoi a state honour and made him a national hero. He apparently sees a positive electoral gain from this kind of activity.

Goldfarb added: “Russia is a nationalistic country where state-run propaganda portrays the UK as the enemy and people like Skripal as traitors.”

Sergei Skripal pictured in 2006.

Some in Russia suggested the Salisbury incident was a British attempt to discredit Putin, who is all but certain to win a new six-year term of office at this month’s ballot.

“The Anglo-Saxons have arranged Litvinenko 2.0 ahead of the elections,” Alexander Kots, a journalist for the pro-Kremlin Komsolskaya Pravda newspaper, wrote on Twitter.

Asked for a comment on the story, a spokesman for the Russian embassy said: “Neither relatives nor legal representatives of the said person, nor the British authorities have addressed the embassy in this regard.”    (The Guardian)

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An Arrest In Moscow Leads To A Norwegian Espionage Mystery |RN

Anton Troianovski
a close up of a logo: The road between Murmansk in Russia and Kirkenes in Norway.© Ksenia Ivanova/For The Washington Post The road between Murmansk in Russia and Kirkenes in Norway.

 

Frode Berg volunteered in a soup kitchen in rural Russia. He helped organize an annual cross-border festival and ski race. His congregation supported a new church in a Russian town just over the boundary line that divides East from West.

Then the Russians arrested him and accused him of being a spy.

That an espionage mystery is unfolding here on the Arctic frontier confounds residents who didn’t expect to be swept up in the confrontation between Russia and the West. On the snowbound shore of an icy fjord, a three-decade experiment in building cross-border ties independent of geopolitics now hangs in the balance.

No one in this Barents Sea port town, a 15-minute drive from the Russian border, seems to know why the police arrested Berg, a 62-year-old retired border inspector, near Moscow’s Red Square in December. His lawyers say Berg stands accused of mailing envelopes with cash and spy instructions addressed to a Moscow woman named Natalia and now faces a virtually certain espionage conviction.

“I can guarantee you that he is not a spy,” said Kirkenes Mayor Rune Rafaelsen. “What I’m wondering is, has someone used him?”

The case has received scant international attention, in part because the Norwegian government has resisted the entreaties of Berg’s friends to bring more public pressure to bear on the Kremlin. But it has jolted Kirkenes, where residents say that Berg personified this remote region’s efforts to foster bonds even after geopolitical tensions spiked in recent years.

Did Russian spies set up Berg to provoke an international incident with Norway, a front-line member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization? Did Norwegian intelligence use Berg as an unwitting courier in an operation gone wrong? Or — in a scenario that Berg’s friends categorically rule out — did he truly lead some kind of double life?

“He seemed to be a nice guy,” said Arve Henriksen, a Kirkenes port agent who specializes in Russian clients, among them the nine crab fishing boats in the harbor outside his office window. “But then again, who really knows anybody when it comes down to it?”

 On Friday, a Moscow judge extended Berg’s jail term for an additional three months as Russia’s investigation of him continues. After the hearing, as Norwegian journalists lobbed questions at him, Berg gripped the bars of his courtroom cage and insisted he had been trapped.

“I feel really misused,” Berg said, referring to unidentified people in Norway who his lawyers say gave him the envelopes to mail. “I have been fighting against hate and anger.”

For now, the only thing that seems clear is that not even Kirkenes — liberated by the Soviets from the Nazis in 1944 and part of a Russia-Norway visa-free zone — can escape the confrontation between Russia and the West. Schoolteacher Robert Nesje realized that last weekend when he was keeping the time at a friendly Russian-Norwegian swim meet and thought of his close friend Berg imprisoned at the same moment in Moscow’s high-security Lefortovo Prison.

“That’s kind of absurd. That’s kind of unreal,” Nesje said. “We feel that the Cold War is coming back.”

Driving south and east out of Kirkenes, travelers leave a prim Scandinavian town where a hotel serves $220 crab dinners and arrive in the Russian town of Nikel, where smoke billows out of a huge nickel plant and a bust of Lenin still stands sentry. The region’s coordinator for international affairs, Tatiana Bazanova, said Berg participated “everywhere and in everything” when it came to cross-border projects and that his case could cast a shadow on all of them.

“If he was truly a spy,” Bazanova said, “it would turn out that all our cooperation is a cover for various operations. Then people might say that I’m undercover.”

Berg came to Kirkenes — on the front line of the original Cold War — as a military officer in 1975. Weekly, he drilled in preparation for a Soviet invasion, training in the use of defensive fire on tanks and helicopters, he recalled in an interview last year for an art project about the border region.

He switched to the border commission in 1990, and in the ensuing quarter-century lived Western hopes for a closer relationship with Russia. He went out on joint patrols with Russian counterparts and ate and fished with them after meetings. He helped arrange an annual ski race for Russians, Finns and Norwegians passing through the normally off-limits border strip. After he retired in 2014, he joined the board of a Kirkenes art organization, Pikene pa Broen, that focuses on cross-border exchange.

The efforts of Berg and others pushing for closer ties paid off. Russian fishing and oil firms flocked to the Kirkenes port and shipyards, and Russian shoppers sought out cheap diapers and other Western goods. An agreement allowing visa-free travel for residents near the border came into force in 2012. Border crossings surged from around 2,000 a year in 1990 to a high of 320,000 in 2013.

Daily buses now run between Kirkenes and Russia’s northern port city of Murmansk. Travelers wind past Russian military bases hidden in the hills and snow-sheathed barbed-wire fences that, in late January, are bathed in the pink light of the Arctic afternoon.

“I’m not afraid of Russia,” Berg said in the interview. “I know the history. I know the Russians very well. And I have no problem with them.”

According to the official line in Moscow, it was all a lie.

“Can such a good-hearted European pensioner be a spy?” asked a December report about Berg on Russian state television. “An investigation by Russian intelligence shows that this is very much possible.”

Berg’s version of the story, according to his lawyers, is that an Oslo acquaintance introduced him to another Norwegian who asked him to take 3,000 euros in cash to Moscow in December and send it to someone named Natalia. On Dec. 5, when Berg was on his way to the post office with the cash, Russian authorities arrested him.

Berg’s Norwegian lawyer, Brynjulf Risnes, is trying to find out whether the men who sent him were spies, and if so for whom. They could have been connected to Norwegian intelligence, he says, or they may have been part of a Russian plan to entrap Berg and provoke an international incident.

a snow covered road: A Norwegian tunnel in Kirkenes, near the border with Russia.© Ksenia Ivanova/For The Washington Post A Norwegian tunnel in Kirkenes, near the border with Russia.

“When Russia’s leadership’s ties with one of its neighbors worsen, the FSB reacts by seeking to open a spy case related to that country,” said Berg’s Russian lawyer, Ilya Novikov, referring to Russia’s security agency, which is investigating Berg.

Novikov said that even though his client maintains his innocence, Berg’s best hope was to be traded for Russian spies in custody in the West. A Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that diplomats were working to safeguard Berg’s interests but that he wasn’t at liberty to discuss details of the case because of Norwegian confidentiality rules.

The lawyers say Berg denies knowing that the envelopes he was carrying contained spy instructions. They say that the FSB has accused Berg of being merely a one-way courier, who learned no Russian secrets. But the Russian state news media said Berg stole secrets on Russia’s Northern Fleet and suggested that pretty much any foreigner who takes a great interest in Russia cannot be trusted.

Russian counterintelligence agents should keep an eye out for foreigners who “are too passionately in favor of developing relations with Russia,” a national-security expert interviewed on state television said about the Berg case.

Relations between Russia and Norway, a founding NATO member, have grown more tense as Europe’s Far North has re-emerged as a strategic focal point. About 300 U.S. Marines arrived in central Norway early last year for winter-warfare training.

The Berg case marks the first time since at least the Russian Revolution that a Norwegian has been arrested for espionage in Russia, according to Lars Rowe, a Russia specialist at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute outside Oslo. He said the arrest would deal a blow to the country’s efforts of “strengthening and preserving whatever can be saved in regional cooperation in the north.”

“For 25 years, we have been working systematically to bring people together. This takes people more apart,” said Lars Georg Fordal, head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, which finances Russian cooperation projects. “Even during the Cold War, nothing like this was actually happening.”    (The Washington Post)

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