Russia ‘tested its poison on handles’
UK security chief sends previously classified intelligence to Nato
Russia had tested whether door handles could be used to deliver nerve agents and had targeted the email accounts of Sergei and Yulia Skripal since at least 2013, according to previously classified intelligence over the Salisbury attack that has been made public. The UK released the intelligence last Friday, linking Russia to the attack on the former double agent and his daughter.
The door handle and email claims were made in a letter from Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK’s national security adviser, to the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. It is rare for the UK to make such intelligence public. In the letter, Sedwill, who has an overview of the work of all British spy services, filled in some of the intelligence the prime minister, Theresa May, referred to when she made a parliamentary statement saying Russia was highly likely to have been behind the attack.
In response, the Russian ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, announced that the embassy would be publishing its own report on the attack. “The British government still hasn’t produced any evidence in support of its position that would confirm their official version,” he told a press conference. “We get the impression the British government is deliberately pursuing the policy of destroying all possible evidence.”
In his Nato letter, Sedwill said the nerve agent novichok had been developed at the Russian research facility in Shikhany as part of an offensive chemical weapons programme with the codename Foliant. Sedwill said Russia regarded at least some of its defectors as “legitimate targets for assassination”, with the suggestion they could include Skripal, a former member of the GRU, Russian military intelligence, who was convicted by Russia of espionage in 2004 after working for MI6. “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 cyber specialists,” Sedwill wrote.
He also 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 … It is highly unlikely that any former Soviet republic (other than Russia) pursued an offensive chemical weapons programme after independence. It is unlikely that novichoks could be made and deployed by non-state actors (eg a criminal or terrorist group).”
The decision to release the intelligence is partly in response to Russia’s repeated denials that it is responsible for the attack. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is linked to the UN, confirmed last Thursday that a novichok nerve agent had been used in Salisbury.
Yulia Skripal, meanwhile, said she did not wish to take up the offer of services from the Russian embassy, according to a statement issued on her behalf by the Metropolitan police. In the statement, published last Wednesday, she said her father remained seriously ill and she was still suffering from nerve agent effects. She also addressed comments by her cousin Viktoria in the Russian media, asking her not to contact or visit her in the UK.
Skripal said she was safe and would give interviews in time. The statement came two days after she was discharged from Salisbury District Hospital.
Recovering … Yulia and her father Sergei Skripal