An ex-Russian spy and his adult daughter remain in critical condition after British authorities said they were poisoned by a nerve agent this month.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious March 4 on a bench in a shopping mall in Salisbury, about 90 miles west of London.
After the attack, British Prime Minister Theresa May said March 12 that Russia is “highly likely” to be responsible for poisoning, revealing to British lawmakers that the nerve agent used against the former spy and his daughter is called Novichok. The weapon was developed in the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War.
May, who added that the poisoning was a “reckless act” against Britain, gave Russia until midnight on March 13 to respond to the charges. When Moscow failed to respond, May expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the United Kingdom the following day.
“All who have been identified as declared intelligence officers: they have just one week to leave,” May said. “This will be the single biggest expulsion for over 30 years and it will reflect the fact that this is not the first time the Russian state has acted against our country.”
May said she is also taking diplomatic and economic measures against the country.
The day before being ousted as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson said the former spy’s poisoning “clearly came from Russia.”
He added that the incident “certainly will trigger a response,” though he did not elaborate on what that response would entail.
“The United States shares the United Kingdom’s assessment that Russia is responsible for the reckless nerve agent attack on a British citizen and his daughter, and we support the United Kingdom’s decision to expel Russian diplomats as a just response,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a March 14 statement. “This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behavior in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes.”
She continued, “the United States is working together with our allies and partners to ensure that this kind of abhorrent attack does not happen again.”
In light of the incident, here’s what to know about Skripal:
His background as a spy
Skripal served with Russia’s military intelligence, often known by its Russian-language acronym GRU, and retired in 1999. He then worked at the Foreign Ministry until 2003, and later became involved in business.
Skripal was arrested in 2004 in Moscow and later confessed to having been recruited by British intelligence in 1995. He also said at the time that he provided information about GRU agents in Europe, receiving over $100,000 in return.
At the time of Skripal’s trial, the Russian media quoted the FSB domestic security agency as saying that the damage from his activities could be compared to harm inflicted by Oleg Penkovsky, a GRU colonel who spied for the United States and Britain. Penkovsky was executed in 1963.
In 2006, Skripal was convicted on charges of spying for Britain and sentenced to 13 years. However, he later was pardoned and released from custody in July 2010 as part of a U.S.-Russian spy swap, which followed the exposure of a ring of Russian sleeper agents in the United States.
Skripal’s wife and son have both died in recent years.
Prior to his wife’s death, however, she reportedly told police that she feared for her husband’s life, the New York Daily News reported.
What has Russia said?
Russia called May’s comments a “circus show,” according to Sky News.
The Kremlin has rejected suggestions it was behind the poisoning, with officials saying on March 12 they have not heard any official statements of Russian involvement.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters Skripal worked for British intelligence and was poisoned on British soil, and therefore the incident “has nothing to do with Russia, let alone the Russian leadership.”
Fox News’ Kathleen Joyce, Katherine Lam, Travis Fedschun, Lucia I. Suarez Sang, Madeline Farber, Zoe Szathmary and The Associated Press contributed to this report.