LONDON (REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Mr Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who was poisoned by a nerve agent in Britain more than two months ago, triggering a diplomatic crisis, has been discharged from hospital, England’s health service said on Friday (May 18).
“It is fantastic news that Sergei Skripal is well enough to leave Salisbury District Hospital,” the hospital’s Chief Executive Cara Charles-Barks said in a statement.
Nursing director Lorna Wilkinson said treating him and two others poisoned by the same nerve agent had been “a huge and unprecedented challenge”. “This is an important stage in his recovery, which will now take place away from the hospital,” she said.
Mr Skripal, 66, a former colonel in Russia’s military intelligence who betrayed dozens of agents to Britain, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench on March 4 in the southern English city of Salisbury, where the former double agent lives.
Police officer Nick Bailey who came to help them was also taken to hospital. He was discharged several weeks after the attack.
Britain has accused Russia of being behind the nerve agent attack and Western governments including the United States have expelled over 100 Russian diplomats. Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning and has retaliated in kind.
The Skripals were in a critical condition for weeks and doctors at one point feared that, even if they survived, they might have suffered brain damage. But their health began to improve rapidly, and Ms Skripal was discharged last month.
“Treating people who are so acutely unwell, having been poisoned by nerve agents, requires stabilising them, keeping them alive until their bodies could produce more enzymes to replace those that had been poisoned,” the hospital statement said.
Britain and international chemicals weapons inspectors have said the Skripals were poisoned with Novichok, a deadly group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.
UN experts have confirmed that a high-purity nerve agent was used without specifying whether it was Novichok or saying who might be behind the poisoning.
Russia has denied Britain’s charges of involvement in the first known offensive use of such a nerve agent on European soil since World War II. It has suggested Britain carried out the attack itself to stoke anti-Russian hysteria.
It has challenged Britain to provide evidence in the case and has requested consular access to Mr Skripal and his daughter. Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office said their offer of consular assistance had been passed to Ms Yulia Skripal but that she had turned it down.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday wished Mr Skripal “good health”. “God grant him good health... if a military-grade poison had been used, the man would have died on the spot. Thank God he recovered and that he left (hospital),” Putin said.
Following Mr Skripal’s release, the Metropolitan Police said it was making “good progress” in the case. “This is a complex investigation and detectives continue to gather and piece together all the evidence to establish the full facts and circumstances behind this dreadful attack,” it said in a statement.
Both she and her father are now likely to be in protective custody. “In the interests of Sergei and Yulia’s safety, we will not be discussing any protective or security arrangements that are in place,” the Metropolitan Police said.
Mr Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who passed information on Russia’s agents in Europe to British security services, resulting in imprisonment in his homeland. He moved to Britain as part of a spy swap in 2010 and has lived there ever since.