Poisoned Ex-Spy Skripal Released From U.K. Hospital
RFE/RL May 18, 2018
Sergei Skripal, a Russian former double agent who was poisoned with a nerve toxin in England in March, has been released from the hospital, British health authorities said on May 18.
Russia repeated its call for access to Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, who was also poisoned and was released in April.
Both had been hospitalized in critical condition after the first known offensive use of such a nerve agent on European soil since World War II -- an attack that Britain blames on Russian President Vladimir Putin's government.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found collapsed on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4. Yulia Skripal was discharged from hospital in April. Police officer Nick Bailey, who had come to the Skripals' help and was also exposed to the nerve agent, was hospitalized the same day and released earlier.
"All three have now been discharged," the National Health Service (NHS) said in a statement.
"It is fantastic news that Sergei Skripal is well enough to leave Salisbury District Hospital," hospital Chief Executive Cara Charles-Barks said in a statement.
Putin, speaking during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi on May 18, wished Skripal "good health."
"I think if, as our British colleagues have insisted, a military-grade poison had been used, the man would have died right away," Putin said, adding that Moscow was "ready to provide our British partners with all necessary assistance to investigate the case."
The NHS said that the right to patient confidentiality limited the amount of information it could disclose about the treatment of the three victims.
"However, treating people who are so acutely unwell, having been poisoned by nerve agents requires stabilizing them, keeping them alive until their bodies could produce more enzymes to replace those that had been poisoned."
The director of nursing at the Salisbury hospital, Lorna Wilkinson, said that Skripal's release "is an important stage in his recovery, which will now take place away from the hospital."
British authorities did not say where Skripal went and have not disclosed the whereabouts of his daughter.
Police said after the NHS statement that they would not discuss the security arrangements in place for Sergei, 66, and Yulia Skripal, 33.
Investigators have expressed hope that their improved conditions will allow them to help determine the details of what happened on March 4 in Salisbury, where Sergei Skripal was living and his daughter was visiting from Moscow.
Britain blames the Russian state for the poisoning, and says it was carried out with a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok. Moscow has vociferously denied involvement and asserted that Britain has not provided evidence of its claim.
The incident has added still more tension to already severely strained relations between Moscow and the West. Britain and other Western countries including the United States have taken steps including expelling more than 150 Russian diplomats -- many of them suspected spies -- over the poisoning, and Russia has retaliated.
Russia's ambassador to Britain, Aleksandr Yakovenko, told reporters in London following the announcement of Skripal's release that Moscow is "happy that he's alright" and that it would continue to "demand" consular access.
"If they don't want our assistance, that's fine. But we want to see them personally," Yakovenko said of the Skripals. But he said that following discussions with Britain's Foreign Office, he "got the impression that we will never see" them.
Sergei Skripal was a member of Russia's GRU military intelligence in the 1990s when he acted as a double agent for Britain.
He was arrested by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in December 2004 and sentenced to 13 years in prison after being convicted of high treason in the form of espionage. He was accused of revealing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working in Europe.
But Russia freed him in 2010 and sent him to Britain as part of a spy swap for 10 Russian agents who had been arrested in the United States.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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