LONDON • The former Russian spy who was found slumped in an English city after being poisoned is no longer in critical condition and is "improving rapidly", the hospital treating him said yesterday.
It was the first official news on the condition of Mr Sergei Skripal, 66, since he and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned on a bench on March 4 in Salisbury.
The affair has sparked a bitter diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow and prompted a wave of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats between Russia and the West.
Mr Skripal "is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition", said Salisbury District Hospital director Christine Blanshard.
As for his daughter, "her strength is growing daily and she can look forward to the day when she is well enough to leave the hospital", Ms Blanshard said.
Britain blames Russia for the poisoning of the Skripals - a charge the Kremlin furiously denies.
The first public comments by Ms Skripal since the poisoning emerged on Thursday.
"My strength is growing daily," she was quoted as saying in comments released by the police.
Moscow earlier yesterday rejected a British news report that the Novichok nerve agent Britain says was used came from a military facility on the Volga river. The Times newspaper on Thursday cited British security sources saying they believed the Novichok nerve agent was manufactured at a facility in the town of Shikhany, south-east of Moscow.
Russian officials said yesterday that no chemical weapons were ever stored at Shikhany, although they stopped short of specifically addressing the claim that Novichok was made there.
"This laboratory was never part of the scope of our work," Mr Mikhail Babich, the Kremlin's envoy in the Volga region and former chairman of the state commission for chemical disarmament, told Interfax news agency.
"We are aware of claims of this sort by our British colleagues," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on a visit to Belarus. "We will not trust in them, we would like to check them but they are not letting us do that."
The Times report came after the British defence laboratory analysing the nerve agent said that it could not determine whether the substance came from Russia.
The Russian authorities have insisted the country never had any programmes to develop the chemical weapon.
Last September, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow had destroyed its last chemical weapons.
At a United Nations Security Council meeting on Thursday, Russia deflected accusations of poisoning.
"Couldn't you come up with a better fake story?" Russian ambassador Vassily Nebenzia asked the council. "We have told our British colleagues that 'you're playing with fire and you'll be sorry'."
Russia called for the UN Security Council talks after it failed to win diplomatic support for a joint probe of the poisoning at a meeting this week of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.