Russian ex-spy Skripal at the center of feared poisoning
Russian ex-spy Skripal at the center of feared poisoning
Police were probing his exposure to an unknown substance, which left him unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury and saw media draw parallels to the case of Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-spy who died of radioactive polonium poisoning in 2006.
But there are important differences between Litvinenko, who fled prosecution in Russia, and the man identified by British media as Skripal, who confessed to spying for London and was jailed before being pardoned and exchanged.
Skripal, 66, was an ex-military intelligence officer when he was detained in December 2004 near his home in Moscow.
He had been recruited by British intelligence while still an active officer with the Russian military’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in the 1990s.
His job for the British was to pass on information about the identities of undercover Russian intelligence agents in various European countries.
He had continued this task even after he stopped working for the Russian military in 1999, receiving information from his former colleagues, the FSB security service said at the time.
“The spy inflicted considerable damage to the defense capability and security of the state with his actions,” it said.
After working for the military, Skripal was employed with the Russian foreign ministry and later became an entrepreneur, according to reports.
In exchange for his work, MI6 made payments to him to a bank account in Spain, totalling over $100,000, Russian authorities said at the time.
Skripal faced up to 20 years in prison on a charge of state treason but was sentenced by a military tribunal to 13 years because of his cooperation with the investigation.
In July 2010, then-president Dmitry Medvedev signed a pardon for Skripal and three other Russians that were swapped with the United States.
These were Alexander Zaporozhsky, Gennady Vasilenko and Igor Sutyagin.
Zaporozhsky and Sutyagin were, like Skripal, serving sentences for state treason. Vasilenko, a former KGB agent, was serving a sentence for other crimes.
Ten Kremlin agents were expelled by Washington in the course of the exchange at Vienna airport on July 9, 2010.
By far the most high-profile of those ten agents was photogenic redhead Anna Chapman who led a very public life for some time after her return to Russia but later dropped off the radar.
The Kremlin on Tuesday said it had no information regarding Skripal’s collapse and would not even say whether he was still a Russian citizen.
Igor Sutyagin, who went to Britain following the swap together with Skripal, said they shared a bottle of whiskey on their 2010 flight over, but have not kept in touch.
“If it was a reprisal against Skripal, it is unclear why it took place,” Sutyagin told Svoboda radio.
“He confessed, was amnestied and had served part of his sentence, I don’t see a reason for revenge against him.”
If the incident was indeed foul play, “anybody could be behind it, including North Korea,” Sutyagin said, adding that the recent negative media coverage makes an attack by Russian security services particularly “ill-timed.”
Alexander Lugovoi, a prime suspect in the Litvinenko murder, dismissed suspicions of poisoning, calling them British “phobias” and saying Skripal was of no interest to authorities after his pardon and exchange.
“Security services had certain agreements,” he told Interfax news agency of the 2010 exchange. “To persecute somebody who is already pardoned is absurd.”
Kosovo votes to create national army over Serb objections
- Europe’s newest independent state which relies on NATO troops for its protection, voted to set up a 5,000-strong national army
- The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by 4,000 stationed NATO troops
PRISTINA: Parliament in Kosovo, Europe’s newest independent state which relies on NATO troops for its protection, voted on Thursday to set up a 5,000-strong national army though its Serb minority said the move was illegal.
Serb deputies, backed by Belgrade which does not recognize Kosovo’s independence, have blocked any such move in the past saying creation of a national army required a change to the constitution.
But three laws promoted by the Kosovo government and passed by a parliamentary vote on Thursday simply upgraded the mandate of the lightly-armed domestic Kosovo Security Force (KSF) to become a national army — something which the government said did not require any changes to the constitution.
The vote was passed with 98 in favor in the 120-seat parliament, though it was boycotted by the legislature’s 11 Serb deputies. A second vote will be required in the next few days.
“The three laws have one task, to protect the territorial integrity of Kosovo, to protect the citizens of all communities in Kosovo,” Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said before the vote.
The landlocked Balkan territory of 1.8 million, which declared independence in 2008, is still guarded by 4,000 stationed NATO troops nearly two decades after the end of the war.
NATO moved into the fledgling state in June 1999 following weeks of air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency after the break-up of Yugoslavia.
The United States and most of the European Union member states recognize Kosovo. But objections by permanent Security Council members Russia and China which back Serbia in not accepting Kosovo’s statehood prevent it from being a member of the United Nations.
The laws passed said the new army would have 5,000 active soldiers and 3,000 reservists. The present KSF security force is a lightly armed, 2,500-strong force trained by NATO and tasked with crisis response, civil protection and ordinance disposal.
NATO says it has no plans to leave the territory just now, but it suggested that any change to the status of the KSF might lead to a reduction in its forces there.
“Any change in the structure, mandate and mission of the Kosovo Security Forces is for the Kosovo authorities to decide,” a NATO official told Reuters in an emailed answer.
“NATO supports the Kosovo Security Force under its current mandate. Should this mandate evolve, the North Atlantic Council will have to re-examine the level of NATO’s engagement in Kosovo. We cannot predict decisions by the North Atlantic Council.”