Sergei Skripal: Kremlin involvement in 'poisoned' spy op 'won't be proved'

6 March 2018, 16:31

Investigators may never prove Kremlin involvement in the suspected poisoning of a Russian spy because the evidence "will never go up the chain of command".

The head of the Russia institute at King's College London said the Kremlin would be able to maintain plausible deniability and always shift suspicions to "innate Russophobia".

Dr Samuel Greene said: "The reality is we don't know the cause of the illness, so there's nothing to trace, we don't know where it's going to be traced to...

"Even if in fact this has been somehow sanctioned or ordered out of the Kremlin, the reality is that... the investigation is never going to find hard and fast evidence that would lead all the way up the chain of command.

"The Kremlin will in any case have tried to maintain some distance from this, and some plausible deniability."

It comes as Metropolitan Police confirmed the father and daughter remain in a critical condition in hospital.

New sites are being looked at by police following the suspected poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Officers are keen to speak to anyone who visited the Zizzi pizza restaurant on Sunday.

In a statement, the head of the UK's counter-terror operations, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, said: "The two people taken ill were in Salisbury centre from around 1.30pm. Did you see anything out of the ordinary?

"It may be that at the time, nothing appeared out of place or untoward but with what you now know, you remember something that might be of significance.

"Your memory of that afternoon and your movements alone could help us with missing pieces of the investigation. The weather was poor that day so there were not as many people out and about. Every statement we can take is important."

Metropolitan Police said: "There are a number of scenes in place in Wiltshire, linked to the investigation into two people being taken ill in Salisbury on Sunday, 4 March."

Counter-terror police are now leading the investigation because they have the "specialist expertise to do so", the Met said.

Emergency services went to a business park in Amesbury, north of Salisbury, on Monday.

Parts of Solstice Park, including an ambulance station, were cordoned off by firefighters.

The incident has not been declared a terrorist incident "at this stage" but officers are "keeping an open mind as to what happened", Met Police added.

Assistant Commissioner Rowley said that while events in Salisbury were being taken "extremely seriously", officers did not think there was any current risk to the wider public.

A meeting of the Government's emergency COBRA committee will take place today to discuss the suspected poisoning.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd calling for an investigation into 14 deaths "that have not been treated as suspicious by the UK police, but have - reportedly - been identified by United States intelligence sources as potentially connected to the Russian state".

Mr Skripal was convicted in Russia of spying for MI6 in 2006, and later given refuge in the UK as part of a spy swap.

Yulia currently works for Pepsico in Moscow, according to her Facebook account, after moving to Britain for a few years in 2010.

A picture has emerged of what is believed to be Mr Skripal and his daughter shortly before they were found "unconscious on a bench" at The Maltings shopping centre on Sunday afternoon.

Theresa May chaired a meeting of the National Security Council on Monday.

The PM and senior ministers were also updated following another meeting of senior Government officials earlier in the day, Downing Street said.

A witness who saw the two Russians has spoken to Sky News.

She said: "They were just slumped. They were comfortable, they weren't in any pain or anything. Lifeless, if you like.

"When you walked past, they didn't even acknowledge that you've walked past. They just stayed slumped."

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The Zizzi restaurant in Castle Street, Salisbury, has been closed "as a precaution".

The Russian embassy, meanwhile, has accused the media of "launching a new phase of the anti-Russian campaign ongoing in the UK".

"Readers are offered various speculations which ultimately lead to a vilification of Russia," it claimed.

In a statement, the embassy added that the police and other British authorities had not provided it with "any official information regarding this incident".

"The Foreign Office has not given any notifications either," it said.

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Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told MPs on Tuesday that the case had "echoes" of Alexander Litvinenko.

Mr Litvinenko, a Russian dissident, was fatally poisoned in London in 2006.

Answering an urgent question in the Commons, Mr Johnson said that "should evidence emerge that implies state responsibility, then Her Majesty's Government will respond appropriately and robustly".

Russia was "in many respects a malign and disruptive force", he added.

Responding to Mr Johnson's comments, the Russian embassy said he had spoken "in such a manner as if the investigation was already over and Russia was found responsible for what happened in Salisbury".