MOSCOW – The United Kingdom would level a robust response should Russia be found responsible for the alleged poisoning of a former spy and his daughter, who remained in a critical condition in a southern English city on Tuesday after they were reportedly exposed to a dangerous substance, the foreign secretary said.
Boris Johnson was responding to a question from lawmakers in the lower chamber of parliament, the House of Commons, after Sergei Skripal, 66, a retired Russian informant to the UK government, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious and slumped over a bench in the city of Salisbury, prompting a police investigation to identify a noxious substance the pair were allegedly exposed to.
“While it’d be wrong to prejudge the investigation, I can reassure the House that should evidence emerge that implies state responsibility, then Her Majesty’s government will respond appropriately and robustly,” Johnson told the Commons. “I say to governments around the world that no attempt to take innocent life on UK soil will go either unsanctioned or unpunished.”
Skripal, a former Russian Army colonel, was convicted for high treason in Russia for passing state secrets onto British intelligence and was ordered to serve 13 years in prison, although he was released four years later and given asylum in the UK as part of a prisoner swap.
Russia said it had no information on what caused a former agent and described the case as a tragedy.
Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Craig Holden of the Wiltshire police said in a statement on Monday that the incident had so far not been declared to be a terror incident, but that authorities would keep an open mind on this stance as the investigation progressed.
“The focus at this moment in time is trying to establish what has caused these people to become critically ill, and we are working with partners to prioritize this diagnosis and ensure that they receive the most appropriate and timely treatment,” he said.
The head of UK counter-terror police, Mark Rowley, reiterated that stance during an interview with BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday, but added that the unusual case bore similarities to that of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian defector who was poisoned with a radioactive substance while living in asylum in the UK in 2006.
A British investigation concluded 10 years later that the assassination had been carried out by Russian intelligence and was likely ordered by the highest authorities.