From Russia with Love, the Horrific Poisoning of an Elderly Man and his Daughter

The poisoning in Salisbury of the Russian spy.

On 4th March 2018, emergency services received a call to state that an older man and young woman were ill on a bench. The pair were rushed to the hospital, where the local police searched for the details of the victims.

Through the search, they revealed that the man was Sergei Skripal, a Russian spy. The woman, his daughter Yulia. The authorities alerted MI6, who confirmed that Skripal was a double agent who had been providing them with Russian secrets from Russian intelligence.

Russia regarded Skripal as a traitor. He had been arrested in August 2006 in Russia and held in custody for two years. Under article 275, he was charged with high treason. He was found guilty and sentenced to thirteen years of hard labour; he was also stripped of his military rank and decorations. Four years into his imprisonment, he was released as part of a deal with the UK to swap high profile spies. The former spy had been living in the sleepy UK town of Salisbury.

The Poisoning

Immediately after, the father and daughter arrived in hospital, authorities made a phone call to Porton Down, the company established to research biological and chemical weapons. The rapidly deployed samples were analysed and the nerve agent Novichok identified.

Novichok is a deadly fast-acting agent that shuts down the bodies muscles and respiration system. It can act within thirty seconds. It had taken several hours to work on the spy and his daughter. The agent is a fine powder and can be injected, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. There are one hundred variants to the chemical; Russia has designed all.

The then foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, went on camera and stated that Porton had identified that the Russian’s had poisoned the pair. It was a statement that Porton called a complete lie. This led to Johnson having to remove his statement, rewrite transcripts and delete several tweets. The media went into overdrive to also cover up the false allegations from Johnson.

The government continued to flounder in the wake of the poisoning. They claimed that the poison had been introduced on a suitcase handle; through the air vents in a car; by a miniature drone, and through breakfast cereal. However, it was clear that they had no idea how the nerve agent had got to the Skripals.

After many months, an unfortunate death of an unrelated woman would lead them to conclude that the nerve agent had been stored in a small perfume bottle and possibly sprayed on the front door handle, to the family home. It is unclear what exactly happened; it is thought that Charlie Rowley found the bottle and passed it on to his friend Dawn Sturgess. She sprayed a small amount on her wrist to smell. Rowley was found unconscious at a house in Amesbury, Wiltshire, eight miles from the initial poisoning. Sturgess would also be found unconscious and die from the poison.

Fall out from the poisoning.

Once it became clear to the UK government that Russia had poisoned one of their operatives on UK soil, they retaliated. They expelled twenty-three Russian intelligence diplomats who were working within the UK. In a show of solidarity, countries around the globe did the same. The US expelled sixty diplomats alone.

Two possible Russian suspects were identified, Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga. Mishkin was a trained military doctor who graduated from the Russian elite military medical academy. He was then recruited by the government and travelled extensively under many names, one being Alexander Petrov. However, his minimal digital footprint would suggest that Mishkin was not his birth name.

His co-conspiratory Chepiga was in fact Colonel Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated GRU officer bestowed with Russia’s highest state award, Hero of the Russian Federation.

The Shripal’s remained in critical condition for many weeks. They were released from the hospital on 29th April 2018 whilst the rest of the world concentrated on the royal wedding. Both recovered entirely from the poisoning. Russia had made it clear that they were looking at dealing with defectors from their country even though some consider it quite unlikely that they would use this level of espionage to try to kill a retired ex-spy.

Skripal has not appeared in public since the day he was released. It is unlikely he is living in the same place. Some suggest he is living under another identity with his family in safety. After the event, several governments re-examined their protection of assets and increased their security.

Russia has never admitted to the poisoning, and it seems unlikely they ever will. It has never been proved that Putin ordered the attack; it is, however, hard to believe that another country would use a Russian nerve agent to kill a Russian spy. The only other explanation that another country was trying to implicate the Russians. The British media largely forgot the event, and it is clear it is an incident that now Prime Minister Boris Johnson would rather forget.