Saturday 19 October, 2019

Spy daughter 'stronger daily' as Russia condemns probe

(Image: AP: File image of Yulia Skripal)

(Image: AP: File image of Yulia Skripal)

The poisoned daughter of an ex-Russian spy said on Thursday she's recovering quickly after her ordeal, while Russia strongly protested being locked out of the probe into the nerve agent that sickened her and her father.

Britain has blamed Russia for the 4 March poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the city of Salisbury. In response, more than two dozen Western allies including Britain, the US and NATO have ordered out over 150 Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity.

Moscow has fiercely denied its involvement in the nerve agent attack and expelled an equal number of envoys. The diplomatic turmoil has hit lows unseen even at the height of the Cold War.

Yulia Skripal said in a statement released by British police that her strength is growing daily and expressed gratitude to those who came to her aid. "I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you'll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence," the 33-year-old said.

The British hospital treating the Skripals has confirmed that Yulia's condition has improved, while her father, 66, has remained in critical condition.

Russian state television on Thursday released a recording of what it said was a phone call between Yulia Skripal and her cousin in Russia. In it, Yulia Skripal says she and her father are both recovering and in normal health. She says her father is sleeping and his health has not been irreparably damaged.

Rossiya TV said Skripal's niece, Viktoria, who lives in Moscow, gave the station the recording of her conversation with Yulia. The broadcaster said it can't verify the recording's authenticity.

‘Unfounded accusations’

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, meanwhile, described the British accusations against Moscow as a mockery of international law. Speaking at a news conference, Lavrov said the poisoning case was fabricated by Britain to "demonise" Russia.

"The so-called Skripal case has been used as a fictitious, orchestrated pretext for the unfounded massive expulsions of Russian diplomats not only from the US and Britain but also from a number of other countries who simply had their arms twisted," Lavrov said in Moscow. "We have never seen such an open mockery of the international law, diplomatic ethics and elementary decorum."

On Wednesday, Russia called a meeting of the international chemical weapons watchdog to demand a joint investigation with Britain into the poisoning - the demand that London has rejected.

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) voted against the Russian proposal, but Moscow said the number of countries that abstained from the vote suggested many have doubts about Britain's accusations.

"It's unacceptable to make unfounded accusations instead of conducting a fair investigation and providing concrete facts," Lavrov said. "Yesterday's debate in The Hague showed that self-respecting adults don't believe in fairy tales."

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that "the purpose of Russia's ludicrous proposal at The Hague was clear — to undermine the independent, impartial work of the international chemical weapons watchdog".

The chief of Britain's defence research lab, the Porton Down laboratory, acknowledged on Tuesday it has not been able to pinpoint the precise source of the nerve agent. Gary Aitkenhead said scientists there identified the substance used on the Skripals as a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok. But he added "it's not our job to say where that was actually manufactured".

Moscow has called a meeting of the UN Security Council to press its case.

Get the latest local and international news straight to your mobile phone for free: