Russian envoy says United Kingdom spying claims about Skripals a 'big surprise'

Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned

The Skripals are believed to have been poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, and the fallout from the attack on them has resulted in the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the United Kingdom and its allies, since the Government concluded that it was "highly likely" that the blame lay with Moscow (News, 16 March, 23 March).

The BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Landale said: "This is understood to strengthen the argument that this substance came from Russian Federation because it is more likely to have been created by a state actor with the capability to make the nerve agent".

The nerve agent attack on two people in England "demonstrates how reckless Russian Federation is prepared to be, how little the Kremlin cares for the worldwide rules-based order", one of Britain's intelligence chiefs said Thursday, in an unusually public and scathing commentary on a foreign power.

But Mr Sedwill's letter suggested the nerve agent used was most likely to have been made at a laboratory in Shikhany, near Volgograd, a branch of the State Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology.

The government of Prime Minister Theresa May expelled 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation and called on ir worldwide allies to follow in ir footsteps. So far, we doubt it much.

Skripal was a former Russian intelligence officer who acted as a double agent for MI6 and was caught, imprisoned, then pardoned and sent to Britain in a spy swap in 2010. It is unlikely that Novichoks could be made and deployed by non-state actors (e.g. a criminal or terrorist group), especially at the level of purity confirmed by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons'. It is the latest in a series of claims by Russian Federation as it denies involvement in the poisoning.

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Poisoned: Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33. "All these allegations that we produced something, it has nothing to do with reality".

The letter revealed that Russia's chemical weapons programme continued after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "While we feel rightly outraged at this act, I have seen no sense that in the city wishes anything but friendship with the Russian people and better relations between our governments".

It also received parts of samples taken by the British authorities which were analysed in OPCW-designated laboratories for "comparative purposes".

Reuters, citing Russia's TASS news agency, reports that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov sounded a more circumspect note, saying Thursday that Russia would not detail its position on the report until officials have studied it thoroughly. Yulia has been discharged and is reportedly being kept at an MI5 "safe house".

"I find myself in a totally different life than the ordinary one I left just over a month ago, and I am seeking to come to terms with my prospects, whilst also recovering from this attack on me", she said.

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