NEWS
12/04/2018 11:42 BST | Updated 12/04/2018 16:29 BST

Sergei And Yulia Skripal Are Recovering – Here's What Could Happen To Them Next

Even their medical future is unclear.

After a month of rumours and an escalating diplomatic row over the shocking poisoning of a father and daughter in the quiet town of Salisbury, one of the victims, Yulia Skirpal, has finally been released from hospital. 

After being treated for four weeks for an attack using a deadly Soviet-developed nerve agent called Novichok, the 33-year-old was ushered out of Salisbury District Hospital on Monday night and taken to a secret location. 

Her father, 66-year-old former Russian double agent Sergei Skirpal remains in treatment, but doctors said he is recovering rapidly, and would be released in “due course”. 

On Thursday the international chemical weapons watchdog backed Britain’s findings on the chemical used in the attack.

The UK government has said that its analysis by military experts at Porton Down showed they were affected by novichok - a military grade nerve agent developed by Russia.

The news of the attack shocked the nation, united Europe against the likely perpetrator, Russia, and boosted support for Theresa May’s government, which talked tough in the face of repeated Kremlin denials of responsibility. But what happens next for the Skripals?

Will they fully recover?

Just two weeks ago, Theresa May warned the Skripals “may never recover fully”.

Dr Michelle Carlin, a toxicologist at Northumbria University, told HuffPost UK it was too soon to give the Skripals a proper prognosis, because knowledge of Novichok’s impact on the body was limited and mostly based on historical cases.

“You have to give the body time to recover,” she said. She added symptoms of exposure to nerve agents could include long-term neurological damage and respiratory problems.

“If they’re being discharged they have been deemed fit enough to go outside but we don’t know what the long term effects are going to be,” she added.

The only confirmed case of Novichok exposure is scientist Andrei Zheleznyakov, who was exposed to a small amount in a Moscow lab accident in 1987 and suffered five years of ill health before he died of a brain seizure.

PA Wire/PA Images
Dr Christine Blanshard, medical director, and Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing, make a statement outside Salisbury District Hospital to announce an update on Yulia and Sergei Skripals' conditions

Will Yulia claim asylum in the UK? 

Despite being imprisoned in Russia for giving secrets to MI6 and living in Britain since 2010, Sergei Skripal remains a Russian national, the country’s embassy in London confirmed.

Yulia Skripal flew from Russia to Heathrow the day before the poisoning and reportedly divided her time between the UK and Moscow.

Viktoria Skripal, Yulia’s cousin, has said she expects her to seek asylum here. “I know that Yulia Skripal’s statement about political asylum is coming already,” she told a Russian TV talk show on Monday.

Speaking after Yulia’s discharge was announced, Viktoria said she could not reach her by phone. She told Russian news agency Interfax: “Nobody has seen her, nobody knows anything, either there or here.”

The Russian Embassy, which Theresa May accused of responding to the poisoning with “sarcasm and contempt”, said it needed “urgent proof that what is being done to her is done on [Yulia’s] own free will”.

Yulia’s dismissal of a Russian embassy request for consular access to her fuelled speculation that she wants to remain in the west permanently, the Sunday Times reported.

Will the Skripals be given new identities?

The Sunday Times have reported the pair would be given new identities, citing a Whitehall source.

There is precedent for this to happen. In a 2015 interview with The Guardian, two Russian ex-spies revealed how they had multiple new identities after defecting to work for the Americans.

They were initially given Serbian names. “We served one country, Russia, and for us to make a decision to go with US officials, we technically became traitors the next minute,” one of the defectors told the paper.

“We could never go home. You are betraying everybody who is believing in you.”

Could they go to the US?

The Sunday Times also reported the pair might be moved to America, and said MI6 and the CIA had discussed the matter.

Authorities would prefer to settle them in one of the English-speaking “Five Eyes” countries that enjoy special intelligence relationships: the UK, US, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, the paper said.

Perhaps reacting to this report, the Russian embassy said on Tuesday that any secret resettlement of the Skripals would amount to “abduction”.

It said: “Since the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal the United Kingdom has not complied with its international obligations under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the bilateral Consular Convention by not allowing consular access to the Russian citizens and not providing any verifiable information on their wishes in that respect.”

Or could they go back to Russia?

According to a former classmate of Sergei Skripal’s, the ex-spy wrote to Vladimir Putin at some point before 2012 asking for forgiveness and to be allowed to return to Russia.

Vladimir Timoshkov told the BBC Skripal wrote the letter asking to be allowed to return and see his family, though the Kremlin later denied receiving such a letter. 

Viktoria Skripal, Yulia’s cousin whom British authorities reportedly suspect of working with the Kremlin, told The Sunday Telegraph her cousin was “desperate to return to Moscow”.

“She has a dog here, she has a life here, she has work here, and a loved one here,” she said.