Russian spies 'trained to apply Novichok to door handles', claims UK intelligence chief

Posted On: 
13th April 2018

Russian spies were trained to deliver the deadly Novichok nerve agent by applying it to door handles, Britain's top intelligence chief has revealed.

Police control entry and exit of Christie Miller Road, Salisbury, near to the home of Sergei Skripal.
PA Images

Experts believe that was how former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, came into contact with the substance before falling ill in Salisbury, Wiltshire, last month.

In a letter to Nato boss Jens Stoltenberg, UK national security adviser Mark Sedwill said: "During the 2000s, Russia commenced a programme to test means of delivering chemical warfare agents and to train personnel from special units in the use of these weapons.

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"This programme subsequently included investigation of ways of delivering nerve agents, including by application to door handles. Within the last decade, Russia has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks under the same programme."

Mr Sedwill also revealed that Russian intelligence were targeting Yulia Skripal's emails five years ago.

The intelligence boss confirmed that the Government believes the poison - which is illegal under international law - was created at the State Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology at Shikhany near Volgograd, under the codename 'Foliant'.

He said Vladimir Putin himself was "closely involved" in Russia's chemical weapons programme in the mid-2000s, and that the "high purity" of the substance meant that it was "unlikely that Novichoks could be made and deployed by non-state actors (eg a criminal or terrorist group)".

And he insisted that only Russia had the capability and the motive to carry out the attack.

"Sergey Skripal was a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, convicted of espionage in 2004," Mr Sedwill wrote. "It is highly likely that the Russian intelligence services view at least some of its defectors as legitimate targets for assassination.

"We have information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals, dating back at least as far as 2013, when e-mail accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU cyber specialists.

"We therefore continue to judge that only Russia has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals and that it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible. There is no plausible alternative explanation."

More than 100 Russian diplomats have been expelled from embassies around the world in the wake of the Salisbury attack. However, Russia denies any involvement.

Yulia Skripal has been released from hospital, and is not being kept under armed guard. Sergei Skripal has regained consciousness, but remains in hospital.

Mr Sedwill's intervention is likely to further worsen relations between Britain and Russia.

Theresa May is preparing for military action against the Russian-backed Assad regime in Syria following last week's chemical weapons attack on civilians on Douma, Eastern Ghouta.

In a press conference this afternoon the Russian Ambassador to London Alexander Yakovenko denied that the Russian Federation had produced or stored Novichock.

"Russia stopped any chemical programmes in 1992, that was made official. In 2017 we eliminated all the chemical weapons.

"We didn't produce Novichok, we didn't store this. Novichok, under the Western clarification, was never in our military forces."

Mr Yakovenko also said that the UK's refusal to grant the Russian Government consular access to the Skripals amounted to abudction.

“We are not allowed to see our citizens, talk to doctors, have no idea about the treatment the Russian nationals receive”.

“We cannot be sure that Yulia’s refusal to see us is genuine. We have every reason to see such actions as the abduction of two Russian nationals," he added.