UK's national adviser says Russia spied on Skripals

Russian ambassador in London accuses UK of violating Vienna Convention

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON (AA) – Russia had spied on ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter for at least five years before the poison attack that put them both in critical condition, the U.K.’s national security advisor said Friday.

Mark Sedwill also said in a letter to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that Russia had previously tested whether door handles could be used to deliver nerve agents.

Sedwill’s letter to the NATO chief detailed the grounds on which British authorities hold Russia responsible of a suspected nerve agent attack targeting Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury six weeks ago.

Sedwill said “only Russia has the technical means, operational means and the motive” to carry out such an attack.

He said, based on British intelligence, that Russia had developed a next generation nerve-agent group called Novichok and stockpiled small amounts of the agent within the last decade.

Scientists from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPWC) confirmed Thursday that Novichok was used in Salisbury, England in the attack on Skripal.

The international chemical weapons watchdog has said an analysis of samples gathered from Sergei Skripal, Yulia Skripal, and detective sergeant Nick Bailey -- who was affected during the emergency response -- confirmed the U.K.’s assessment of the incident.

The chemical weapon used in Salisbury was of “high purity”, the watchdog said.

Skripal, 66, and his daughter, 33, were admitted to a hospital after being found unconscious on a public bench on March 4.

“Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia,” specifically from the Novichok group, British Prime Minister Theresa May said after the incident, based on an assessment by British experts.

Referring to the 2006 death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, Sedwill said Russia had the operational means to carry out such an attack against Skripal.

Litvinenko died after drinking radioactive tea in a London hotel, according to investigations by British authorities.

Former KGB bodyguards identified as suspects in the murder denied any involvement.

“Russia has a proven record of conducting state-sponsored assassination,” Sedwill said.

“There is no plausible alternative explanation,” he added.

- Russian ambassador

Also on Friday, Russia’s London Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko held a press conference to further question Britain’s conclusions about the incident.

Yakovenko also said a refusal to their demands to provide consular assistance to Yulia Skripal – a Russian citizen – was a breach of the Vienna Convention.

“We are not allowed to see our citizens, talk to doctors, have no idea about the treatment the Russian nationals receive,” he said.

“We cannot be sure that Yulia’s refusal to see us is genuine. We have every reason to see such actions as the abduction of two Russian nationals,” he added.

Yulia Skripal earlier this week was discharged after more than a month of hospital treatment following the attack.

Salisbury District Hospital said Sergei Skripal was still in the hospital but showing progress.

Sergei Skripal was granted refuge in the U.K. following a 2010 spy exchange between the U.S. and Russia. Before the exchange, he had been serving a 13-year prison term for leaking information to the British intelligence.

NATO and the EU have supported the U.K. and condemned the attack.

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