Russian ex-spy Skripal at the center of feared poisoning

Police officers stand outside the house of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal who was found critically ill Sunday following exposure to an “unknown substance” in Salisbury, England, Mar 6, 2018. (AP)
Updated 06 March 2018
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Russian ex-spy Skripal at the center of feared poisoning

MOSCOW: Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent whose mysterious collapse in England sparked fears of a possible poisoning by Moscow, has been living in Britain since a high-profile spy swap in 2010.
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.”


India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

Updated 11 December 2018
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India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

  • Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition
  • Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling party could lose power in three key states, four TV networks said on Tuesday, citing votecount leads, potentially handing Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014, and months ahead of a general election.
The main opposition Congress party could form governments in the central states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and in the western state of Rajasthan, all big heartland states that powered Modi to a landslide win in the 2014 general election.
Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition, despite his high personal popularity in the face of criticism that he did not deliver on promises of jobs for young people and better conditions for farmers.
“We’ve all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here,” said Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat grower in Madhya Pradesh, where it appears as if Congress might have to woo smaller parties to keep out Modi’s party.
“BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid.”
The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, president of the left-of-center Congress, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups and face Modi with his most serious challenge yet, in the election that must be held by May.
In Rajasthan, the Congress was leading in 114 of the 199 seats contested, against 81 for the BJP, in the initial round of voting, India Today TV said.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress was ahead in 59 of the 90 seats at stake, with the BJP at 24. In Madhya Pradesh, the most important of the five states that held assembly elections over the past few weeks, Congress was ahead, with 112 of 230 seats. The Hindu nationalist BJP was at 103, the network said.
Three other TV channels also said Congress was leading in the three states, with regional parties leading in two smaller states that also voted, Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.
Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters.
Local issues usually dominate state polls, but politicians are seeing the elections as a pointer to the national vote just months away.
Indian markets recovered some ground after an early fall as the central bank governor’s unexpected resignation the previous day shocked investors.
The rupee currency dropped as much as 1.5 percent to 72.465 per dollar, while bond yields rose 12 basis points to 7.71 percent after the resignation of Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel.
The broader NSE share index was down 1.3 percent, with investors cautious ahead of the election results.
“As the three erstwhile BJP states have a large agrarian population, the BJP’s drubbing could be interpreted to mean that farm unrest is real,” Nomura said in a research note before the results.
“A rout of the BJP on its homeground states should encourage cohesion among the opposition parties to strengthen the non-BJP coalition for the general elections.”
Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has sought to build a coalition of regional groups, some headed by experienced firebrand, ambitious politicians.
Congress has already said it would not name Gandhi, who is seen as lacking experience, as a prime ministerial candidate.
“When one and one become eleven, even the mighty can be dethroned,” opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav said of the prospect of growing opposition unity.