MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday that attempts to blame it for the mysterious illness that has struck down a Russian former double agent in Britain were wrong and looked like part of a campaign to damage relations between London and Moscow.
Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in southern England on Sunday afternoon. They remain critically ill in hospital.
Britain has warned Russia it will respond robustly if the Kremlin was responsible, while the Times newspaper has cited British government sources as saying the suspected poisoning is being treated as an assassination attempt linked to Russia.
Skripal, sent to Britain as part of a 2010 spy swap, sold the identities of dozens of Russian agents across Europe and is regarded as a traitor by Moscow.
But Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said allegations of Russian involvement were “bogus” and that his illness was being cynically used to escalate an anti-Russian campaign in Britain.
It looked like there was an orchestrated campaign underway to harm ties between London and Moscow involving British politicians and the media, Zakharova told reporters at a briefing in Moscow.
“Before it was clear what happened, the traditional speculation was being put about,” she said.
“It’s very hard not to assess this as provocative black PR designed to complicate relations between our two countries.”
Zakharova cited the high-profile deaths of two other Russians in Britain, that of tycoon Boris Berezovsky and businessman Alexander Perepilichny, as examples where the finger had also been wrongly pointed at Moscow.
Berezovsky, a critic of President Vladimir Putin, was found dead at home in 2013 in a locked bathroom with a ligature around his neck. A British coroner said he could not be sure if the 67-year-old had killed himself or was the victim of foul play.
Perepilichny, 44, was found dead near his home after he had been out jogging in 2012. He had helped a Swiss investigation into a Russian money-laundering scheme. British police ruled out foul play despite suspicions he might have been murdered with a rare poison, but an inquest into his death has yet to give a definitive conclusion as to how he died.
“How did the Berezovsky story end? How did the Perepilichny story end?,” Zakharova asked reporters. “You don’t know ... and nobody has informed us via official channels.”
“This (Skripal) story will end the same way. The media buzz will be cranked up, there will be groundless allegations without any proof, and then it will all be declared secret, and neither journalists nor society nor politicians and officials will know what really happened.”
Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Gareth Jones