- Yulia Skripal’s emails targeted by Russian military intelligence back in 2013
- Dossier details nerve agent Novichok door handle link
- Russian Embassy publishing its own report on the incident
- Russian ambassador accuses Britain of destroying evidence linked to attack
- Insists Russia stopped any chemical programmes in 1992
Russian intelligence agencies have been spying on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter for at least five years, Britain has said in the latest twist in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill said cyber specialists from the GRU – Russian military intelligence – targeted Yulia Skripal’s email accounts as far back as 2013.
In a letter to Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Sir Mark also said that in the 2000s the Russians had begun a programme to train personnel from “special units” in the use of chemical warfare agents.
He said that it included investigating ways of delivering nerve agents by applying them to door handles. The strongest concentration of the Novichok nerve agent found in the Salisbury incident was on the front door of Skripal’s home.
The claims come after the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons backed Britain’s assertion the Skripals were poisoned by Novichok – a military grade nerve agent developed by the Russians in the 1980s.
In his letter, Sir Mark set out why the Government believes that only Russia has the “technical means, operational experience and the motive” to carry out such an attack – including some declassified intelligence material.
He said Russia had a “proven record of conducting state-sponsored assassination” and that it was “highly likely” some defectors – like Skripal, a former GRU officer who was exchanged in a spy swap in 2010 – may be regarded as “legitimate targets for assassination”.
“We have information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals dating back at least as far as 2013, when email accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU cyber specialists,” he said.
Sir Mark also identified the key institute for developing Novichok in the former Soviet Union as a branch of the State Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology at Shikany near Volgograd.
“The code word used for the offensive chemical weapons programme (of which the Novichoks were one part) was FOLIANT,” he said.
“It is highly likely that Novichoks were developed to prevent detection by the West and to circumvent international weapons controls.”
He said that Russia had continued to produce and stockpile small quantities of Novichoks within the last decade.
“We therefore continue to judge that only Russian has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals and that it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible,” he said.
“There is no plausible alternative explanation.”
Yulia, 33, who was found critically ill alongside her 66-year-old father on a bench in Salisbury in March, was discharged from hospital in Wiltshire this week.
Sergei is recovering more slowly than his daughter but will be able to leave Salisbury District Hospital in due course, said medical director Dr Christine Blanchard, earlier this week.
The Russian Embassy is publishing its own report on the Salisbury nerve gas attack, London ambassador Alexander Yakovenko has announced, adding that the UK has still not produced any evidence to support its claims about the incident.
Yakovenko has accused the British authorities of destroying evidence in the Salisbury nerve agent attack and he said the UK had yet to produce the proof to back its claims that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of the Skripals.
“The British Government still hasn’t produced any evidence in support of its position that would confirm their official version,” he told a news conference at the Russian embassy in London.
“We get the impression the British Government is deliberately pursuing the policy of destroying all possible evidence.”
Yulia has refused assistance from Russia since leaving hospital, after her home country claimed Britain had “abducted” her.
Yakovenko questioned the authenticity of her refusal, again complaining: “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 also said he had not received the allegations in Sir Mark’s letter from the authorities and said the claim that Russian intelligence had been interested in the Skripals since at least 2013 came as a “big surprise”.
“If somebody was spying why were the British services not complaining about that because they always complain if something goes wrong in their country or somewhere else,” he said.
The ambassador also denied that Russia had ever produced or stockpiled Novichok nerve agents.
“Russia stopped any chemical programmes in 1992. In 2017 we eliminated all the chemical weapons,” he said.
“We didn’t produce Novichok, we didn’t store this Novichok, so-called under the Western classification, was never in our military forces. This is the fact of life.”
Yakovenko said Russia was sending an official request to the UK on Friday under article nine of the Chemical Weapons Convention seeking “clarification and information” regarding questions and concerns Moscow has.
When asked if he thought there was any connection between events in Syria and in Salisbury, he replied: “We can see some logic there, because one way or another, the whole affair, the real serious affair in Salisbury was a huge provocation against my country.
“I see the philosophical link between everything what happened here and in Syria. But, of course, we’re dealing with every single case on a case-by-case basis.”
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, speaking at a briefing at New Scotland Yard, said around 250 detectives were working on the Salisbury investigation.
Asked if the probe was getting closer to identifying a suspect, she said: “All I can say is we are putting huge effort in, we will continue to do that.
“We will do everything we can to establish the facts, to identify who was responsible and if at all possible, bring them to justice.”