Novichok appeared in blood test of second UK police officer in 2018

FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand on duty outside Sergei Skripal's home in Salisbury, Britain, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) – British police who investigated a 2018 Novichok poisoning that was blamed on Russia said traces of the deadly nerve agent have since been found in a blood sample taken from a second officer at the time.

Police said the officer received medical treatment and returned to duties shortly after they responded to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, a former Russian double agent and his daughter who were found slumped on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury.

The attack triggered a sequence of events which ended with one person dead and a deep strain on the West’s relations with Russia. Another officer, Nick Bailey, fell seriously ill at the time before eventually recovering.

Both Skripals have made a slow recovery.

The police said the poisoning of the second officer had not originally appeared in tests at the time but showed up when the sample was tested by a different method. They said officers were continuing to review the case.

Britain has blamed the attack on two agents from Russia’s GRU military intelligence who visited the city. Russia has denied any involvement.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison)

Russia says photos don’t prove its spy was linked to Skripal case

FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov looks on during a visit to the Mazda Sollers Manufacturing Rus joint venture plant of Sollers and Japanese Mazda in Vladivostok, Russia September 10, 2018. Valery Sharifulin/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS

By Andrey Ostroukh and Andrey Kuzmin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday a likeness between a Russian intelligence colonel and a suspect in the Skripal poisoning case does not prove they are the same person, comparing the resemblance to that of impersonators posing as Lenin.

Former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a public bench in the English city of Salisbury in March. Britain says they were poisoned with a nerve agent administered by Russian intelligence officers. A woman later died from what British police say was contact with the poison which her partner found in a discarded perfume bottle.

Russia denies any involvement in the affair, which has deepened its international isolation.

Moscow says two Russian men captured on surveillance footage near the scene of the poisoning were tourists visiting Salisbury twice during a weekend trip to Britain, an explanation London says is so far-fetched as to all but prove Russia’s involvement.

Investigative website Bellingcat this week published a picture of a decorated Russian military intelligence colonel it named as Anatoliy Chepiga who resembles one of the men spotted in the surveillance footage.

“We don’t know to what extent we can make any formal conclusions about who looks like whom, are they alike, where they lived, where they grew up,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

“On Red Square there are still 10 Stalins and 15 Lenins running around, and they look remarkably like the originals,” he said, referring to people who dress up as Soviet leaders to pose for photographs with tourists.

Peskov said in order to draw any conclusions, the Russian authorities needed verified information from British officials about the Skripal case, something he said London has been consistently withholding.

“We do not want to participate anymore in the propagation of this issue as a partner of the media,” said Peskov.

(Reporting and writing by Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Christian Lowe and Peter Graff)

U.S. sanctions on Russia tied to UK attack to take effect Monday

The Russian flag flies over the Embassy of Russia in Washington, U.S., August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Lisa Lambert and Lesley Wroughton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions against Russia tied to a nerve agent attack in Britain, which were announced earlier this month, will come into effect on Monday, the U.S. government said on Friday, adding to the array of economic penalties it has imposed on Moscow in recent years.

The new measures, detailed in a notice posted at the Federal Register, will terminate foreign assistance and some arms sales and financing to Russia, as well as deny the country credit and prohibit the export of security-sensitive goods and technology.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the sanctions will only create more tension between the two countries, the RIA news agency reported on Friday.

Although President Donald Trump has often said he would like better ties with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Washington’s relations with Moscow are at a low – frayed by U.S. allegations Russia interfered in its 2016 presidential election, and by disagreements over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its role in the Syrian civil war.

Plans to impose the latest sanctions were announced by the Trump administration on Aug. 8, a response to what the State Department said was Moscow’s use of a nerve agent against a former Russian agent and his daughter in Britain in March.

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, were found unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to the front door of his home. Both survived the attack.

Moscow has denied involvement in the attack. It has also denied meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

‘CHANGE IN BEHAVIOR’

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said on Friday Moscow must change its ways before the United States will lift its already long list of sanctions.

“The sanctions remain in force and will remain in force until the required change in Russian behavior,” he told a news conference in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

The new measures will be published and come into effect on Aug. 27 and remain in place for at least one year, according to the notice in the Federal Register, a daily catalog of government agency actions. They are authorized by the 1991 Chemical and Biological Weapons and Warfare Elimination Act.

Spaceflight activities, government space cooperation, areas concerning commercial aviation safety and urgent humanitarian assistance will be exempt.

A second batch of penalties will be imposed after 90 days unless Russia gives “reliable assurance” that it would no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations or another international observer group.

Soon after the attack on the Skripals, Washington also showed solidarity with Britain and announced it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe in punishing the Kremlin.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Additional reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Editing by Frances Kerry)

U.S. strongly condemns Russia’s poisoning of former spy: White House

By Jeff Mason

BERKLEY HEIGHTS, New Jersey (Reuters) – The White House said on Friday the United States strongly condemned Russia’s use of chemical weapons against a former Russian agent in Britain, two days after the U.S. State Department announced sanctions over the move.

“The attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, United Kingdom, on March 4, 2018, was a reckless display of contempt for the universally held norm against chemical weapons,” said a spokesman for the White House National Security Council in an email.

The spokesman said sanctions that the State Department said it would impose by the end of August fulfilled its legal obligations “after determining a foreign government has used chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals or in violation of international law.”

Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to his home’s front door.

President Donald Trump, who is spending the week at his golf property in New Jersey, did not comment on the recent sanctions when asked about them by a reporter on Thursday. Trump has sought to improve relations with Russia despite U.S. intelligence findings that Moscow had meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

European countries and the United States have expelled 100 Russian diplomats since that attack, in the toughest action by Trump against Russia since he came to office.

Trump and his advisers have often appeared at odds over how strongly to act against Moscow. In the run-up to a summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki last month, U.S. officials repeatedly called out Russia over its “malign” activities, but Trump did not use such language during a news conference with Putin.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Russia reels, denounces new U.S. sanctions as illegal, unfriendly

FILE PHOTO: National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia condemned a new round of U.S. sanctions as illegal on Thursday after news of the measures sent the rouble tumbling to two-year lows and sparked a wider asset sell-off over fears that Moscow was locked in a spiral of never-ending curbs by the West.

Moscow has been trying with mixed success to improve battered U.S.-Russia ties since Donald Trump won the White House in 2016, and Russia’s political elite was quick to chalk up a summit last month between Trump and Vladimir Putin as a victory.

But initial triumphalism swiftly turned sour as anger over what some U.S. lawmakers saw as an over deferential performance by Trump and his failure to confront Putin over Moscow’s alleged meddling in U.S. politics galvanized a new sanctions push.

Having bet heavily on improving ties with Washington via Trump, Moscow now finds that Trump is under mounting pressure from U.S. lawmakers to show he is tough on Russia ahead of mid-term elections.

In the latest broadside, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday it would impose fresh sanctions by the month’s end after determining that Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain, something Moscow denies.

In an early reaction, the Kremlin said the sanctions were illegal and unfriendly and that the U.S. move was at odds with the “constructive atmosphere” of Trump and Putin’s encounter in Helsinki.

The new sanctions come in two tranches. The first, which targets U.S. exports of sensitive national-security related goods, comes with deep exemptions and many of the items it covers have already been banned by previous restrictions.

However, the second tranche, activated after 90 days if Moscow fails to provide “reliable assurances” it will no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations or other international observer groups, is more serious.

NBC, citing U.S. officials, said the second tranche could include downgrading diplomatic relations, suspending the state airline Aeroflot’s ability to fly to the United States and cutting off nearly all exports and imports.

The State Department’s announcement fueled already worsening investor sentiment about the possible impact of more sanctions on Russian assets and the rouble at one point slid by over 1 percent against the dollar, hitting a two-year low, before recouping some of its losses.

The U.S. move also triggered a sell-off in Russian government bonds and the dollar-denominated RTS index fell to its lowest since April 11.

“There is local panic on the currency market,” BCS Brokerage said in a note. “At times, the number of those who want to ditch the rouble is becoming so high so there is not enough liquidity.”

ILLEGAL

The Kremlin said the new sanctions were “illegal and do not correspond to international law.”

“…Such decisions taken by the American side are absolutely unfriendly and can hardly be somehow associated with the constructive – not simple but constructive – atmosphere that there was at the last meeting of the two presidents,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Washington had become an unpredictable player on the international stage, Peskov added, saying “anything could be expected” from it and that it was important that Russia’s financial system, which he described as stable, was prepared.

In a sign the Kremlin was not eager to escalate an already difficult situation however, Peskov said it was too early to talk about Russian countermeasures.

He criticized the U.S. decision to link the sanctions to the British nerve agent case, an incident the Kremlin has long cast as a Western plot to damage its reputation and provide a pretext for more sanctions.

Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury in March after a liquid form of the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to his home’s front door.

European countries and the United States expelled 100 Russian diplomats after the attack, in the strongest action by Trump against Russia since he came to office.

Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the upper house of parliament’s international affairs committee, was cited by the Interfax news agency as saying it looked like Washington was now behaving like “a police state.”

Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former colonel in the Russian army, said the State Department’s move looked like the latest salvo in what he called a hybrid war.

“Sanctions are the U.S. weapon of choice,” Trenin wrote on Twitter.

“They are not an instrument, but the policy itself. Russia will have to brace for more to come over the next several years, prepare for the worst and push back where it can.”

At variance with Moscow over Ukraine and Syria, Western sanctions have already drastically reduced Western involvement in Russian energy and commodities projects, including large-scale financing and exploration of hard-to-recover and deep water resources.

Proposed U.S. legislation prepared by several senators calls on Trump to widen the sanctions further to include virtually all Russian energy projects and effectively bar Western companies from any involvement in the country.

Introduced by Republican and Democratic senators last week in draft form, Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the measure’s lead sponsors, has called it “the sanctions bill from hell.”

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov, Tom Balmforth, Denis Pinchuk, Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

UK police speak to man poisoned with Novichok nerve agent

FILE PHOTO: Forensic investigators, wearing protective suits, emerge from the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Police said on Wednesday they had spoken to the man poisoned with a nerve agent as detectives sought to discover how he and his partner, who died on Sunday, were exposed to Novichok.

Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, fell ill after being exposed to the poison in southwest England, close to where Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked with the same substance in March.

Sturgess, a mother of three, died on Sunday and her death is being treated as murder. However, the hospital treating Rowley said he was no longer in a critical condition and was now conscious.

“Officers from the investigation team have spoken briefly to Charlie and will be looking to further speak with him in the coming days as they continue to try and establish how he and Dawn came to be contaminated with the nerve agent,” London police said in a statement.

“Any contact officers have with Charlie will be done in close consultation with the hospital and his doctors.”

Britain and its allies have blamed Russia for the attack on the Skripals, prompting the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War. Moscow has rejected the accusations and has hit back by expelling Western diplomats.

The Skripals, who have both been discharged from hospital after spending weeks in hospital, fell ill after the poison was applied to the ex-spy’s front door in the city of Salisbury. Sturgess and Rowley were found at a house in Amesbury, 11 km (7 miles) away.

Neil Basu, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer said it might never be possible to definitively establish a link between the death of Sturgess and the poisoning of the Skripals.

He also said police could not guarantee there were no more traces of Novichok, developed by the Soviet military during the Cold War, still in England.

“I would love to be able to stand here and say how we have identified and caught those responsible and how we are absolutely certain there are no traces of nerve agent left anywhere in the county,” Basu said.

“The brutal reality, however, is that I cannot offer you any such assurances or guarantees at this time.”

Basu has previously said that due to the high dose that Sturgess and Rowley received, the hypothesis was they must have handled a contaminated container.

(Writing by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)

UK police in protective suits seen at site of new Novichok poisoning

Fire and Rescue Service personel arrive with safety equipment at the site of a housing estate on Muggleton Road, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By Henry Nicholls

SALISBURY, England (Reuters) – Police wearing protective suits entered a hostel in the southern English city of Salisbury on Friday as counter-terrorism detectives stepped up their investigation into how two people were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.

A team of 100 officers are working to discover how and where a 44-year-old woman and a 45-year-old man, both now critically ill, came across an item contaminated with Novichok, the same toxin used in an attack on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter four months ago.

Britain has accused Russia of poisoning the Skripals with the nerve agent – developed by the Soviet military during the Cold War – at the former spy’s home in Salisbury in what was the first known offensive use of such a chemical weapon on European soil since World War Two.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement and says Britain is trying to stoke up anti-Russian sentiment.

Forensic investigators wearing protective suits enter the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Forensic investigators wearing protective suits enter the rear of John Baker House, after it was confirmed that two people had been poisoned with the nerve-agent Novichok, in Amesbury, Britain, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

Paramedics were called on Saturday morning to a house in Amesbury, a few miles from Salisbury, after the woman, named by media as Dawn Sturgess, collapsed. They returned later in the day when the man, Charlie Rowley, also fell ill.

Tests later showed they had been exposed to the same nerve agent as the Skripals, although the authorities said it was not yet clear whether it was from the same batch.

Police said they had fallen ill after handling a contaminated item but gave no further details. On Friday, four investigators wearing protective clothing entered the hostel for homeless people in Salisbury where media said Sturgess had been staying.

“Meticulous and systematic searches are under way at a number of sites. The safety of the public and our officers remains paramount and the searches will take longer because of the precautions that we must take to ensure there is no outstanding risk,” police said on Thursday.

Skripal – a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service – and his daughter Yulia were found slumped unconscious on a park bench. They spent weeks in hospital before being discharged.

The British authorities say there was nothing in the background of the latest pair to suggest a link to espionage or to Russia.

The March attack prompted the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War as allies sided with Britain’s view that Moscow was either responsible or had lost control of the nerve agent.

Moscow hit back by expelling Western diplomats, questioning how Britain could know that Russia was responsible and offering rival interpretations, including that it amounted to a plot by British secret services.

(writing by Michael Holden and Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison)

Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal discharged from UK hospital

FILE PHOTO: The forensic tent, covering the bench where Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found, is repositioned by officials in protective suits in the centre of Salisbury, Britain, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

By Alistair Smout and Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) – Sergei Skripal, the Russian former spy who was left in critical condition by a nerve agent attack in Britain more than two months ago, has been discharged from hospital, national health authorities said on Friday.

Skripal, 66, a former colonel in Russia’s military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Britain’s accusations that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack led to a Russia-West crisis in which Western governments, including the United States, have expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats. Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning and retaliated in kind.

The Skripals were in a critical condition for weeks and doctors at one point feared that, even if they survived, they might have suffered brain damage. But their health began to improve rapidly, and Yulia was discharged last month.

“It is fantastic news that Sergei Skripal is well enough to leave Salisbury District Hospital,” the hospital’s Chief Executive Cara Charles-Barks said in a statement.

Police have said they will not give any details of the Skripals’ new security arrangements in the interests of their safety, and neither they nor the hospital gave any details of Sergei’s new whereabouts. Yulia was taken to a secure location after her release, the BBC reported at the time.

Britain and international chemicals weapons inspectors say the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s. Foreign minister Boris Johnson called on Friday for a meeting of parties to the international Chemical Weapons Convention to find ways to strengthen the agreement.

A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, who called the Salisbury attack a “reckless and despicable act”, welcomed news of Skripal’s discharge.

Moscow has denied involvement in the first known offensive use of such a nerve agent on European soil since World War Two. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that had a weapons-grade nerve agent been used on Skripal, he would be dead.

Russia has suggested Britain carried out the attack itself to stoke anti-Russian hysteria, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last month that the agent used in the attack may have never been made in Russia.

Putin on Friday welcomed Skripal’s progress, and Russia’s ambassador to London reiterated Russia’s desire to see the pair, saying that currently Britain was not fulfilling its obligations under international law.

“We’re happy that he’s alright,” Alexander Yakovenko told reporters.

“We’re still demanding the access to these people. We want just to understand how they feel and we want them to say personally what they want. If they don’t want our assistance it’s fine. We want to see them physically.”

Britain has said previously that Yulia, a Russian citizen, has chosen not to take up Russia’s offer of help.

Salisbury Hospital said that patient confidentiality limited the information they could give, but that the “acutely unwell” Skripals had been stabilized and kept alive until their bodies could replace poisoned enzymes with new ones.

(Additional reporting Michael Holden and Ana de Liz; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Catherine Evans)

UK has not yet identified Skripal poisoning suspects

FILE PHOTO: Salisbury District Hospital is seen after Yulia Skripal was discharged, in Salisbury, Britain, April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain has not identified the suspects who carried out the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal but is stepping up protection for other defectors who might also be at risk, the UK’s national security adviser said on Tuesday.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4 after a liquid form the Novichok type of nerve agent was applied to the front door of his home.

Britain says Russia was behind the attack but Moscow has denied any involvement. The ensuing fallout led to the biggest Western expulsions of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

Asked by lawmakers on the British parliament’s defense committee if the suspects behind the poisoning had been identified, Mark Sedwill, the national security adviser to Prime Minister Theresa May, said: “Not yet”.

The attack left both Skripal and his daughter critically ill in hospital for weeks. A British policeman was also treated in hospital.

Yulia Skripal, 33, was discharged last month but her father, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s MI6 foreign spy service, remains in hospital.

Other Russian dissidents and defectors have also been killed in Britain in recent years in circumstances that have raised suspicions.

Police said they had launched a murder investigation into the death of Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov who was found dead at his London home days after Skripal was poisoned, although detectives said there was nothing to link the two events.

Following the Skripals’ poisoning, police and intelligence services were also instructed to look at 14 other deaths which were not originally treated as suspicious by police but where allegations of Russian state involvement had been made.

In a letter to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg last month, Sedwill said Russia’s intelligence agencies spied Skripal and his daughter for at least five years and regarded some defectors as “legitimate targets for assassination”.

He told the British lawmakers that preventative steps were now being taken.

“The police who are responsible for protective security and the various agencies alongside them are reviewing the security of all people who might be vulnerable in that way,” Sedwill told the committee.

(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

Daughter of poisoned Russian spy declines embassy help: statement

An undated photograph shows Yulia Skripal, daughter of former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal, taken from Yulia Skripal's Facebook account in London, Britain, April 6, 2018. Yulia Skripal/Facebook via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) – Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned in Britain last month along with her father, a former Russian spy, said on Wednesday she did not wish to take up the offer of services from the Russian Embassy in London.

In a statement issued on her behalf by British police, Skripal said her father, Sergei, remained seriously ill and she was still suffering from the effects of nerve gas used against them in an attack that led to one of the biggest crises in Britain’s relations with Moscow since the Cold War.

“I have access to friends and family, and I have been made aware of my specific contacts at the Russian Embassy who have kindly offered me their assistance in any way they can,” Yulia Skripal said.

“At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services, but, if I change my mind I know how to contact them.”

The Russian Embassy in London has previously said it had not been granted consular access to the 33 year-old woman.

Following Yulia Skripal’s statement, the embassy said: “We continue to insist on a meeting with Yulia and Sergei Skripal. The situation around them looks more and more like a forceful detention or imprisonment.”

Yulia Skripal was discharged from a hospital in the English city of Salisbury on Monday, where, she said, she was treated ” with obvious clinical expertise and with such kindness”.

Skripal said she was not yet strong enough to give a media interview and she said comments made by her cousin to Russian media were not her’s nor those of her father.

“I thank my cousin Viktoria for her concern for us, but ask that she does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being,” the statement quoted her as saying.

The Skripals were in a critical condition for weeks after the March 4 attack before their health improved.

Sergei Skripal, who was recruited by Britain’s MI6, was arrested for treason in Moscow in 2004. He ended up in Britain after being swapped in 2010 for Russian spies caught in the United States.

Britain accused Russia of being behind the nerve agent attack and Western governments including the United States expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats. Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning and retaliated in kind.

(Writing by William Schomberg; Editing by Angus MacSwan)