LONDON (Reuters) – Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve toxin that had been left on the front door of their home in England, British counter-terrorism police said.
After the first known use of a military-grade nerve agent on European soil since World War Two, Britain blamed Russia for the attempted assassination, and the West has expelled around 130 Russian diplomats.
Russia has denied using Novichok, a nerve agent first developed by the Soviet military, to attack Mr Skripal. Moscow has said it suspects the British secret services are trying to frame Russia to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.
“We believe the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent from their front door,” said Dean Haydon, Britain’s’ senior national coordinator for counter-terrorism policing.
“Specialists have identified the highest concentration of the nerve agent, to date, as being on the front door of the address,” Scotland Yard said in a statement.
Mr Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, have been in a critical condition since being found unconscious on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.
The attempted murder of Mr Skripal, a 66-year-old former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain’s MI6 spy service, has plunged Moscow’s relations with the West to a new post-Cold War low.
After Britain expelled 23 Russians it said were spies working under diplomatic cover, Russia followed by throwing out 23 British diplomats. The US and other Western countries, including most member states of the European Union and NATO, expelled over 100 diplomats.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the Kremlin had underestimated the Western response to the attack.
“These expulsions represent a moment when a feeling has suddenly crystallised, when years of vexation and provocation have worn the collective patience to breaking point, and when across the world – across three continents – there are countries who are willing to say enough is enough,” Mr Johnson said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been dealing with a deadly shopping center fire in Siberia, has yet to respond, though Moscow has threatened retaliatory action.
According to court papers, the Skripals are both heavily sedated and unable to communicate, and that it is impossible to assess when or to what extent either may regain mental capacity.