Olga Zeveleva
6 March 19:46.

Who poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, UK?

British PoliticsrussiaRussian PoliticsspyPolitics
1 answer

At the moment, there is no evidence - or, nobody has published any evidence - that the case of Skripal was foul play, let alone that there was any Russian official involvement. We are quite a long way away from the sort of diplomatic problems that could emerge if there had been Russian official involvement. And we would be quite careful not to do anything until we have lots of evidence, just as we had with the Litvinenko case. So for the moment, it’s a more sort of distant black cloud for the British embassy in Russia than an immediate crisis.

Skripal had been arrested by the Russians for working as a British spy, and I don’t know whether the charges were true or not. He was then brought back to the UK as part of a spy exchange in 2010, which suggests actually that the charges were true. And he may have had other things that he might have known which would be useful for the British authorities, therefore the British authorities would have spoken to him when he came back to the UK. This was a long time ago, in 2010. I find it unlikely that he will have had anything of active interest now, in 2018.

There are parallels, but there are also significant differences between this case and the Litvinenko case. The parallel is that this was an ex-Russian intelligence agent dying in mysterious circumstances, potentially from poison - certainly from poison in the case of Litvinenko, potentially from poison in the case of Skripal. But there are also differences. Litvinenko had fled Russia and was still in some sense a wanted man in Russia, and he published a book in which he accused the Russian authorities of organising the big explosions before the second Chechen war. With regard to Skripal, he was released as part of a spy exchange in 2010, and he was pardoned by the Russian government.

In the case of Litvinenko, it was pretty clear as soon as the news of what happened to him came through that we had a major problem in our relations with Russia, because right from the beginning there were strong suspicions of Russian official involvement in the crime.

It’s the British government’s responsibility to protect all citizens in Britain. If people are particularly under threat, then, no doubt, we warn them and keep a general eye on them. But in the case of Litvinenko, I don’t think there was any reason to believe there was a threat. What’s happened to him came right out of the blue to everyone. And Skripal, again, was released as part of the spy exchange, living openly under his own name - I assume that we didn’t think there was a threat. I don't know if Skripal was a citizen of the UK.

Indeed, there may not have been a threat. We don’t yet know what he died of or who might have been involved.