Russia ‘tested handle attack’
LONDON Britain’s security chief has revealed that Russia spied on former double agent Sergei Skripal in the five years before he and his daughter, Yulia, were attacked with the nerve agent novichok in Salisbury last month, and that Moscow had an assassination programme based around nerve agents that included attacking a victim by smearing poison on a door handle.
In a letter to Nato allies, released by British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday, Sir Mark Sedwill also said Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘‘was closely involved in the Russian chemical weapons programme’’ in the mid-2000s.
Russia can still make novichok, which was first produced during the Soviet era as part of an offensive chemical weapons programme code-named Foliant.
Sedwill’s letter included confirmation that the highest concentration of novichok was found on the front door handle of the former MI6 spy’s house in Salisbury.
Going further in public than any other British official so far, he also said that the GRU – Russian military intelligence service, and Sergei Skripal’s former employer – targeted Yulia Skripal’s emails.
‘‘We have information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals, dating back at least as far as 2013, when email accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU cyberspecialists,’’ Sedwill wrote.
It was ‘‘highly likely’’ that Russia’s spy agencies viewed at least some defectors, such as Sergei Skripal, ‘‘as legitimate targets for assassination’’, the letter said.
Putin’s regime had also trained people to use a nerve agent as an assassination tool, the letter said.
‘‘During the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering chemical warfare agents and to train personnel from special units in the use of these weapons. This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles. Within the last decade, Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of novichoks under the same programme.’’
Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to London, accused Britain of destroying evidence of the Salisbury attack. ‘‘The British government still hasn’t produced any evidence in support of its position that would confirm their official version,’’ he said. The Times
Sir Mark Sedwill