The hospital treating former Russian spy Sergei Skripal says he is no longer in a critical condition and his health is improving rapidly, more than a month after he was poisoned with a nerve agent in England.
- Mr Skripal’s recovery could help British police solve the case, an affair diplomats have compared with Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries
- His daughter Yulia is also recovering well, issuing a statement yesterday thanking people for their help
- Moscow has asked for an explanation as to why Mr Skripal’s niece was denied a British visa to take Yulia to Russia
Mr Skripal, 66, who as a colonel in Russian military intelligence betrayed dozens of agents to Britain’s foreign spy service, was found slumped unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury along with his daughter Yulia on March 4.
Britain blamed Russia for the poisoning, the first known offensive use of such a nerve agent on European soil since World War II.
Moscow denied any involvement and suggested Britain had carried out the attack to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.
After weeks of no reported change in his condition, the hospital confirmed that Mr Skripal, who had been treated under heavy sedation, was now making fast progress.
“He is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition,” Christine Blanshard, Medical Director at Salisbury District Hospital, said in a statement.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.
Russia said it did not have such nerve agents and President Vladimir Putin dismissed as nonsense the notion that Moscow would have poisoned Mr Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter.
The attack prompted the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War, as allies in Europe and the United States sided with Ms May’s view that Moscow was either responsible or had lost control of the nerve agent.
Moscow has hit back by expelling Western diplomats, questioning how Britain knows that Russia was responsible and offering its rival interpretations, including that it amounted to a plot by British secret services.
‘The body clears the nerve agent away’
Mr Skripal’s improvement has marked the latest twist in an affair that British and Russian diplomats have variously compared with Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie mysteries.
Doctors had initially feared that the Skripals might have suffered permanent brain damage.
A British judge said last month that the attack might have left them with compromised mental capacity, with an unclear effect on their long-term health.
The hospital did not say whether either Mr Sergei or his daughter would suffer long term effects.
Britain’s foreign office welcomed the improvement in the Skripals but said they were “likely to have ongoing medical needs”.
One toxicologist said recovery in such cases was possible.
“We know that nerve agents cause a temporary but potentially lengthy effect on the brain and nervous system,” Chris Morris, a doctor at Newcastle University’s Medical Toxicology Centre, said in a statement.
“What we also know however, is that with time the body clears the nerve agent away.
“If the correct treatment is given quickly and the right support provided, then recovery is typically very good.”
Mr Skripal’s daughter’s health has also improved rapidly.
On Thursday, she issued a statement through British police to thank hospital staff and people who came to her help when “when my father and I were incapacitated”.
Russian state television reported that Yulia had phoned her cousin in Russia and told her that she and her father were both recovering and that she expected to leave hospital soon.
Their recovery could ultimately help British counter-terrorism police piece together how they were attacked.
Sergei’s niece denied visa
Meanwhile, the UK Home Office said on Friday that Viktoria Skripal, who had planned to travel to Britain to take Yulia back to Russia, had been denied a British visa.
Victoria Skripal told Sky News that the “British must have something to hide” after the decision.
Moscow asked for explanations regarding Britain’s refusal to issue a visa to her, RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying.
At a session of the executive of the global chemical weapons watchdog this week, Russia called for a joint inquiry into the poisoning of the Skripals, but lost a vote on the motion.
At a United Nation Security Council meeting on Thursday, Russia warned Britain that “you’re playing with fire and you’ll be sorry” over its accusations.