British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson warned the Kremlin of a “robust” reaction if evidence from the attempted murder of a former Russian intelligence officer leads back to the Kremlin.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found on a bench outside a Salisbury shopping centre on March 4. The two were apparently exposed to an unknown substance and are currently in intensive care.
“… If it’s as bad as it looks, it is another crime in the litany of crimes that we can lay at Russia’s door,” Johnson told the House of Commons. He called Russia a “malign and disruptive force.”
Johnson said that if Skripal was poisoned in the UK, London will not send British officials to the 2018 FIFA World Cup that will be held in Russia later this summer. England’s national football team will, however, still take part in the tournament.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s official spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said the foreign secretary’s statements were “wild accusations”, Her comments were followed by a statement from Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said Moscow had no information on the incident and denied any involvement.
The Russian Embassy in London released a statement bemoaning how the British media “continually demonise Russia”.
Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, arrested in 2004 on suspicion he was cooperating with the UK’s MI6 Secret Services. In 2006, he was convicted in Russia of espionage after being accused of revealing the identity of Russian spies to British intelligence.
He was later sent to the UK in 2010 as part of a spy swap that took place at Vienna Airport.
Skripal’s wife and son have died under mysterious circumstances.
The British press is already making comparisons between the Skripal case and Alexander Litvinenko, a former field operative for the Soviet-era KGB and its modern successor the FSB. Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive plutonium-210 in London in 2006 and died shortly thereafter.
Unlike the Litvinenko case, the UK’s military research laboratory (Prton Down) told the BBC that there is no danger to the public. Investigators have taken samples from the scene, but it remains unclear what substance was used to poison Skripal.