LONDON — The leaders of the United States, France, Germany and Canada on Thursday endorsed Britain’s assessment that a nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in March was conducted by Russian military officers and “almost certainly” approved at a senior level of the Russian government.
The leaders urged Russia to provide a “full disclosure” of its Novichok nerve-agent program and said they would “continue to disrupt together the hostile activities of foreign intelligence networks on our territories.”
The joint statement was released shortly before London’s and Moscow’s envoys to the United Nations squared off in an emergency Security Council meeting called by Britain to brief diplomats on the investigation.
British ambassador Karen Pierce methodically outlined evidence that she said pointed to the Kremlin’s complicity in the attack, which occurred March 4 in the quiet English city of Salisbury.
Two Russians — using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — were charged Wednesday in absentia with attempting to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent.
Pierce acknowledged the two suspects, who flew back to Russia shortly after the attack, cannot be extradited under the Russian constitution. But she said Britain will ask Interpol to issue an alert to arrest them if they ever leave Russian territory, so they can be tried in Britain. More here from the Washington Post.
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Sergei Skripal, the Russian double agent who was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in England earlier this year, worked with Spanish intelligence after his defection to the United Kingdom, according to sources. Skripal, a former military intelligence officer who spied for Britain in the early 2000s, had kept a low profile while living in the English town of Salisbury. He was resettled there in 2010 by the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), after he was released from a Russian prison. But he and his daughter Yulia made international headlines in March, after they were poisoned by a powerful nerve agent that nearly killed them. The attack has been widely blamed on the Russian government, but the Kremlin denies that it had a role in it.
The attempt to kill Skripal surprised some intelligence observers due to the fact that the Russian government had officially pardoned the double agent prior to exchanging him with Russian spies who had been caught in the West. As intelNews wrote in May, “typically a spy who has been pardoned as part of an authorized spy-swap will not need to worry about being targeted by the agency that he betrayed. If it indeed tried to kill Skripal, the Russian government may therefore have broken the unwritten rules of the espionage game”. Eventually, however, it was revealed that, instead of retiring after his defection to the UK, Skripal traveled extensively in Eastern Europe, where he advised local intelligence agencies on how to defend against Russian espionage. The double agent participated in MI6-sponsored events in which he briefed intelligence practitioners in at least two countries, Estonia and the Czech Republic. These activities may have convinced the Kremlin that Skripal had broken the unwritten conditions of his release, namely that he would not participate in any intelligence-related activities against Russia.
Now The New York Times has claimed that, in addition to consulting for Czech and Estonian spies, Skripal also visited Spain, where he met with officers from the country’s National Intelligence Center (CNI). Citing an unnamed Spanish former police chief and Fernando Rueda, a Spanish intelligence expert, The Times said that Skripal advised the CNI about the activities of Russian organized crime in Spain and the alleged connections between Russian mobsters and the Kremlin. When he traveled to Spain under MI6 protection, said the paper, Skripal was effectively returning to the place where he had been initially recruited to spy for the British. Skripal spent several years in Spain, said The Times, serving as a military attaché at the Russian embassy in Madrid. It was there that he began to work secretly for MI6. However, the precise timing of Skripal’s return trips to Spain after 2010, as well as the content of his discussions with Spanish intelligence officials, remain unknown, according to The Times. Hat tip.