Kremlin says ‘absurd’ to accuse Russia in Novichok death

From Radio Free Europe:

The Kremlin has rejected the idea that Russia could have been behind the poisoning of a woman British authorities say died after being exposed to the same nerve agent that put former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the hospital, calling it “absurd.”

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, spoke on July 9, a day after British police said that Dawn Sturgess, a 44-year-old mother of three, died in the hospital following an unexplained exposure to the nerve agent Novichok.

“We consider that in any case it would be quite absurd” to blame Russia for the poisoning of Sturgess, Peskov said.

Meanwhile, British police said they believed Sturgess and her boyfriend, who is in critical condition, must have handled a container of the substance and been exposed to a “high dose.”

Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said the death of Sturgess showed that she and partner Charlie Rowley were exposed to a large quantity of Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent produced in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Basu said the working theory was that their exposure was linked to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who have recovered after being exposed to Novichok in early March.

Britain has called on Russia to answer questions about where the nerve agent came from. Peskov tried to turn the tables, saying Russia was “deeply worried by the continuing presence of these poisonous substances on British territory.”

This posed “a danger not only for the British, but for other Europeans,” he said.

Peskov’s remarks were in line with repeated Kremlin denials of Russian involvement in the poisoning of the Skripals in the southern English city of Salisbury.

British authorities say Sturgess and Rowley, 45, were found unconscious on June 30 at a house in Amesbury, less than 20 kilometers from Salisbury.

The death of Sturgess is now being investigated as a murder.

“Her death has only served to strengthen the resolve of the investigations team,” Basu said, adding that a priority for police is to find any container that may be the source of the Novichok.

More than 100 police are trying to search all areas where Sturgess and Rowley had been before they became ill. The search is focused on their homes and a park in Salisbury.

Prime Minister Theresa May said on July 8 that she was “appalled and shocked” by the death of Sturgess, and a spokesman for May said that Britain’s interior minister will chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee on July 9.

The incident involving the Skripals, who were both initially in critical condition but recovered after weeks in the hospital, triggered a diplomatic crisis between Moscow and the West.

Britain blamed Russia’s government for the attack with a military-grade chemical weapon that was developed in the Soviet Union. Russia rejects the accusation.

Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats it says were spies and suspended high-level contacts over the incident.

Russia ordered the expulsion of 23 British diplomats and the closure of Russian operations of the British Council in Russia, which promotes cultural ties between the two countries, in retaliation.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, The Guardian, and dpa

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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