According to the BBC, Russian ambassador to the European Union Vladimir Chizhov now says that the nerve agent used in the poisoning of 66-year-old former Russian spy-turned-double-agent Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia Skripal in Salisbury may have actually came from a nearby British lab.
Prime Minister Theresa May declared earlier this month that investigators believe the toxin involved in the March 4th incident was one in a family of military-grade nerve agents known as Novichok, which extensive evidence supports was originally developed in the Soviet Union. Russia formally denies any involvement in the development of Novichok agents or that it has any in its possession.
Chizhov told the BBC that he believes Novichok agents could have ended up in Salisbury from nearby UK military research facility Porton Down (which does have a history of chemical weapons testing allegations).
“When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories,” Chizhov said. “And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research. And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”
UK officials have denounced Chizhov’s claims as thinly veiled fabrications. In a 2016 statement, the government explained that its active research on chemical and biological weapons at Porton Down were closed in the the 1950s, and only “very small quantities” of agents are manufactured there for the sole purpose of developing countermeasures and are disposed of safely after research is carried out.
On Sunday, ABC News also reported that three senior intelligence officials (albeit ones speaking under the cover of anonymity) described the substance involved as a Cold War relic and said they believed it was poured in powder form into the air vents of Skripal’s car. They also said up to 38 people in total were “affected” by the toxin, which has left the Skipals comatose and put officer Nick Bailey in critical condition for weeks.
Per the BBC, other Russian diplomats have been pushing back against the rapidly coalescing agreement among many Western countries that the Skripal poisoning was some sort of revenge killing, part of a widely suspected campaign of actual and attempted assassinations against former Kremlin enemies living in the UK. Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, for example, said that the technology behind the nerve agent could have been brought out of the collapsing Soviet Union by defecting scientists, while Russian envoy to the United Nations Vissaly Nebenzia separately claimed the UK could have staged the attack as a pretext to blame Russia. [BBC via The Daily Beast]