Moscow chides UK media for theorizing about its role after Sergei Skripal taken ill

The Kremlin has said it has no information about an incident involving a former Russian spy who was taken ill in Salisbury after exposure to an unknown substance, and chided British media for indicating Moscow was involved.

Sergei Skripal, 66, was one of four Russians swapped for 10 deep encompas “sleeper” agents planted by Moscow in the US. He is critically ill in hospital after being received unconscious on a bench in a shopping centre in the small Wiltshire city. A female in her 30 s who was discovered alongside Skripal was also taken to hospital in a critical condition.

” We don't possess any informed about what could have been the cause[ of Skripal's illness ], and what this could be connected to ,” said Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman. He said Russia had not been contacted by Britain but it was ready to assist in any investigation.” Moscow is always open to cooperation ,” Peskov said, holler the incident ” tragic “.

Peskov appeared to mock British media suggestions that Skripal could have been poisoned by Russian agents, saying:” It didn't take them long .” He said he did not know whether Skripal was still a Russian citizen.

Skripal's mysterious illness extended an invitation to comparisons with the poisoning in London in 2006 of another Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, whose demise plunged British-Russian relations to a post-cold war low. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, denied any Russian participation and refused to extradite the two Russians accused by the British authorities of killing Litvinenko.

However, speaking in 2010, Putin, a former KGB officer, said ” traitors always end poorly “.” Secret services live by their own laws and these statutes are very well known to anyone who works for a secret service ,” he said.


Who was Alexander Litvinenko?

Alexander Litvinenko had been an officer with Russia's Federal Security Service( FSB ), the successor to the KGB, but fled to Britain where he became a fierce critic of the Kremlin, and a British citizen.

Litvinenko fell ailment and died in November 2006 after drinking a cup of tea laced with radioactive polonium, sparking a major international incident.

He met his murderers in the Millennium hotel in Mayfair, central London. The pair were Andrei Lugovoi- a former KGB officer turned tycoon, who is now a deputy in Russia's state Duma- and Dmitry Kovtun, a childhood friend of Lugovoi's from a Soviet military family. Vladimir Putin denied involvement and refused requests to extradite either of the killers from Moscow.

A public investigation in 2015 and 2016 hear five months of proof, including secret submissions from UK spy agencies. Its chairperson, Sir Robert Owen, concluded therefore that the FSB had murdered Litvinenko, designating Lugovoi and Kovtun to carry out the mission.

Owen also ruled that Putin had” probably approved” the operation.

Photograph: Natasja Weitsz/ Getty Images Europe

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Some Russians assured the incident involving Skripal as a British attempt to discredit Putin, who is all but certain to win a new six-year term of office in general elections this month.

” 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. Argumenti i Fakti, a popular tabloid, said ” western propaganda” would exploit Skripal's illness” to the full “.

Retired colonel Sergei Skripal during a hearing at a Moscow court for 2006. Photograph: Tass

Skripal served in Russia's GRU military intelligence until 1999, reaching the rank of colonel. He then ran at the Russia foreign ministry's office in Moscow until 2003, when he went into business. He was detained in 2006 and charged with passing the identities of Russian agents working undercover in Europe to MI6.

” You outplayed me ,” Skripal reportedly told FSB agents after his arrest. An FSB spokesperson at the time compared Skripal to Col Oleg Penkovsky, who was executed by the Soviet Union in 1963 for supplying the US with information during the course of its Cuban weapon crisis.

He was jailed for 13 years by a Russian court in August 2006 after being convicted of” high treason in the form of espionage “. Russian attorneys said he had been paid $100,000( PS72, 000) by MI6 for info “hes been” supplying since 1995, when he was a serving officer. He arrived here the UK as part of a high-profile spy swap in 2010 involving Anna Chapman, a diplomat's daughter.


What is Russia's GRU intelligence agency?

Powerful and mysterious, the GRU is one of Russia's three intelligence agencies. It has been accused by the US of having taken the lead in hacking the 2016 US presidential election.

Russia also has the FSB and SVR. The former is the sprawling structure that assimilated most specific areas of the KGB after the fall of the Soviet Union, while the latter is the part that focused on spying abroad, which became a new structure in modern Russia.

The GRU, the intelligence wing of the Russian army, has always been a separate entity. All three operated agents and missions abroad.

The GRU is entered into decline in the 1990 s and there was some talk of disbanding it, but in 2006 it to come to new headquarters. It was considered instrumental in Russian maneuvers to annex Crimea in 2014 and subsequent interference in eastern Ukraine.

The level of secrecy surrounding the GRU is so high that there was even speculation in 2016 that it had changed its name without anybody knowing.

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Andrei Lugovoi, one of the suspects in the poisoning of Litvinenko, said it was unfair for Britain to jump to conclusions on Skripal.

” I don't rule out that this is another provocation by British intelligence agencies ,” Lugovoi told Russia's pro-government Vzglyad newspaper.” Whatever is happening on[ British] territory, they start yelling:' He was killed, he was hung, he was poisoned !' and that Russia is to blame for everything. This is to their advantage.

” The English suffer from phobias. If something happens to Russians, they immediately attempt Russian fingermarks ,” he told Interfax.

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