A Year After Skripal Poisoning, Russia Offers Defiant Face to Britain and the West


UNITED NATIONS — Far from wishing the world would forget the name Sergei V. Skripal, Russia seems to be emphasizing it.

Exactly one year ago, Mr. Skripal, a former Russian spy, was found twitching beside his unconscious daughter on a park bench in Salisbury, England, both poisoned, British authorities later said, with a potent nerve agent administered by two officers from Russia’s military intelligence agency. In response, Britain and its allies expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats and imposed punishing economic sanctions, pushing the Kremlin further into isolation from the West.

Rather than ignoring the anniversary, however, Russia punctuated the occasion on Monday with an hourlong news conference at the United Nations and a 52-page report rehashing the episode in detail, amplified by extensive coverage on its English-language government channel, RT.

Russian officials also have tried to turn the tables, accusing Britain of violating international law by refusing to provide Russian consular officials access to the Skripals, who survived and whose whereabouts has not been made public.

“Where are they kept? We have absolutely no information about this,” Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative at the United Nations, said at the news conference, in which he suggested the Skripals might have been victims of “a forced detention or even abduction.”

There are reasons to shield the Skripals from contact with representatives of the country that the British authorities say tried to kill them. The British government has said the Skripals are free to make contact with Russian diplomats should they wish, but have so far declined to do so.

Over the past year Russian officials have sought to exploit holes in the complicated narrative of the poisoning to suggest an anti-Russian conspiracy. Mr. Polyanskiy pointed to early inconsistencies in news reports about the effects of the nerve agent, which the British authorities said was a Soviet-developed weapon known as Novichok. He also said the absence of surveillance video in the vicinity of the Mr. Skripal’s home was suspicious.

Ultimately, he insisted, the British government had failed to provide any convincing evidence of Russian involvement.

“They are satisfied,” he said, referring to British officials. “They achieved what they wanted, they created this illusion that Russia was behind this crime and they don’t bother to produce any other proofs.”

For months, the British authorities have released quite a bit of information about the poisoning and the evidence indicating who carried it out and how. In September, the Crown Prosecution Service charged two men, identified as officers in Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U., with attempted murder, conspiracy and possession of a nerve agent. The men were identified by the aliases they used on their Russian passports, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

With the help of Britain’s ubiquitous CCTV camera coverage, the authorities were able to assemble a detailed map of the men’s journey from London to Salisbury, where investigators say they sprayed the poison on Mr. Skripal’s front door using a bottle disguised as a vial of perfume.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global body that monitors chemical weapons stockpiles, confirmed the conclusions of British scientists about the use of Novichok, traces of which were found in the East London hotel room where the suspects had stayed.

On Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain traveled to Salisbury, where she praised the emergency workers, public servants and residents for their response to the attack. In a statement, she said the anniversary was “an important milestone for Salisbury as it emerges from the shadow cast by the use of chemical weapons on the streets of our country.”

A year on, British law enforcement agencies continue to investigate the poisoning, leaving open the possibility that others could be implicated. British news outlets and an investigative organization, Bellingcat, have identified a third G.R.U. officer who arrived in London on the same day as the other suspects.

The officer, whom Bellingcat has identified as Denis Sergeev, was also reported to have been in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, on the day that a prominent Bulgarian arms dealer was poisoned in 2015. Last month, Britain’s ambassador to Bulgaria, Emma Hopkins, announced that British officials were assisting in the investigation of that poisoning.

Besides the Skripals, the nerve agent sickened three others, including a police officer and two Britons who picked up the discarded bottle believed used in the poisoning. One of them, Dawn Sturgess, died.

Shortly after Britain identified Mr. Petrov and Mr. Boshirov as suspects, they gave an interview to the editor of RT, in which they claimed to be sports nutritionists on holiday in Salisbury to see its famous cathedral. RT later distributed chocolate models of the cathedral as holiday gifts.

And President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, far from chastising the G.R.U. for entangling Russia in a confrontation with the West, heaped praise on the agency at an event last November celebrating its centenary, describing it as “legendary.”

So far, there is no indication that any of the punishments conceived by the West have changed Russia’s behavior.

Mark Galeotti, an expert on the Russian intelligence services, wrote in an op-ed in The Moscow Times on Monday that while Russia has of late appeared to step back from its most aggressive actions, “the battle goes on.”

“The Kremlin is enjoying the reputation of being a swashbuckling maverick, ruthless, dangerous and decisive,” he wrote. “This has a certain value, not least in deterring the fainthearted.”

Source : Nytimes