The UK has proffered what they claim is evidence that Russia has had it out for former double-agent Sergei Skripal since at least 2013, and that Russia has been researching the effectiveness of spreading a nerve agent on door handles for assassination purposes, according to the BBC and the New York Times. The revelations are courtesy of Sir Mark Sedwill, Britain's national security advisor, who detailed the declassified claims in a Friday letter to NATO. From the NYT:
Mr. Sedwill’s letter, the most detailed account of British intelligence on the subject to be shared with the public to date, also reported that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was “closely involved in the chemical weapons program” beginning in the mid-2000s.
During that period, the letter claims, Russia was secretly developing the nerve agents known as Novichok that British officials say were used in the March 4 attack on Sergei V. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the quiet cathedral city of Salisbury, England.
Mr. Sedwill’s letter also said that Britain has evidence that Russian security services have been monitoring the Skripal family. Cyberspecialists from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Services hacked Ms. Skripal’s email in 2013, the letter said. Asked about that at his news conference, Mr. Yakovenko responded sarcastically, “Big surprise.”
The letter added that Russian intelligence services “view at least some of its defectors as legitimate targets for assassination.” -New York Times
The letter also claims that "during the 2000s," a special Russian unit began to develop chemical weapons specifically for state-sponsored attacks, and to "train personnel from special units in the use of these weapons."
“This program subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles,” the letter also says.
Meanwhile, "Russia believes Yulia Skripal has been abducted by Britain - and that the UK is faking sources in order to blame the Kremlin for her poisoning," Sky News reported on Thursday after having spoken directly with Russia's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova.
"We have zero information from officials in London about what is going on with her," Zakharova told Sky News presenter Dermot Murnaghan in Moscow, adding "We have suspicions that she's been abducted, held against her will."
"We just want to be sure that Yulia Skripal is actually better, that this is for real."
Yulia Skripal was found unconscious in a Salisbury park on March 4, along with her father, former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal. The circumstances surrounding their poisoning - including the origin and delivery method of the Novichok nerve agent used on the pair has been the source of heated debate for over five weeks.
Despite no formal investigation having been conducted (and a curious link between Sergei Skripal and former MI6 spy Christopher Steele having been revealed by The Telegraph), several nations consequently slapped Russia with sanctions under the presumption that they were responsible for the attempted assassinations.
Yulia cuts off her cousin
While Yulia Skripal was in the hospital, she reportedly spoke with her Russian cousin Viktoria over the phone - a recording of which was broadcast by Russian television last Thursday in a conversation which the Rossiya 24 announcer emphasized was unverified.
In the recording, Yulia can be heard telling Victoria that she and her father are healthy, and neither has suffered long-term health damage from the poisoning. British authorities maintained that only Yulia was conscious at the time and that her father was in "critical but stable" condition.
Viktoria Skripal, meanwhile, has repeatedly expressed doubts that Russia was behind the attack - suggesting, says the New York Times, that "bad fish" or an attack by the mother of Yulia Skripal's boyfriend could have sickened the pair.
So, Yulia Skripal calls her cousin in Russia from hospital and they're talking just fine. A few days later Yulia releases a strange statement, clearly not written by herself, asking that her cousin not contact her in the future. A bit weird, or what?— Danielle Ryan (@DanielleRyanJ) April 12, 2018
Relocating to America?
Last weekend we covered a story from The Sunday Times about a rumor that Sergei and Yulia Skripal will likely be offered "a new life in America in an attempt to protect them from further murder attempts."
Intelligence officials at MI6 have had discussions with their counterparts in the CIA about resettling the victims of the Salisbury poisoning. “They will be offered new identities,” a senior Whitehall figure said.
Security sources said Britain would want to ensure their safety by relocating them with one of the “five eyes” countries, the intelligence-sharing partnership that also includes America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. -The Times
“The obvious place to resettle them is in America, because they’re less likely to be killed there and it’s easier to protect them there under a new identity,” an intelligence source familiar with the negotiations added. “There’s a preference for them to be resettled in a five-eyes nation because their case would have huge security implications.”
Many are wondering how the pair survived exposure to one of the deadliest nerve agents on the planet, as a 1mm drop is the lethal dose - about the size of a small drop of rain. So far we've been told the Novichok was either smeared on a doorknob, at Sergi's wife's graveside, the air vents on Sergei's BMW, and a "gift from friends" opened by Yulia at Zizi's restaurant. Whatever the case, it also sickened 38 others.
Skripal, a former double agent who was imprisoned in Russia in 2006 after the Kremlin discovered he had been cooperating with British secret services since 1995. He was released and pardoned by then-president Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, and relocated to the UK as part of a spy swap. According to The Telegraph, Skripal reportedly has ties to former MI6 agent Christopher Steele.
The Telegraph understands that Col Skripal moved to Salisbury in 2010 in a spy swap and became close to a security consultant employed by Christopher Steele, who compiled the Trump dossier.
The British security consultant, according to a LinkedIn social network account that was removed from the internet in the past few days, is also based in Salisbury.
On the same LinkedIn account, the man listed consultancy work with Orbis Business Intelligence, according to reports. -The Telegraph
The Telegraph's report implies that Skripal - still tied to Russian intelligence, could have been a source for some of the claims in the "Steele Dossier," a 35-page document full of salacious and unverified claims about Donald Trump, which was paid for by Hillary Clinton and the DNC and arranged for by opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
If Skripal was involved in the Steele dossier - it would greatly expand the list of who might want him to wake up dead.