Britain Warns Moscow Over Poisoning Of Ex-Russian Double Agent

Forensics officers at The Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury. Pic Solent News

The investigation into the suspected poisoning of a former Russian spy was dramatically escalated yesterday as counter-terrorism officers stepped in to lead inquiries.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious near the Maltings shopping centre and are receiving treatment in hospital.

The swap, one of the biggest since the Cold War ended in 1991, took place on the tarmac of Vienna airport where a Russian and a U.S. jet parked side by side before the agents were exchanged. Police have confirmed that neither had visible injuries. Both are in critical condition at a nearby hospital.

The discovery led to a dramatic decontamination effort.

Johnson was addressing the House of Commons following an urgent question from Conservative MP, Tom Tugendhat, regarding the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter.

Freya Church, 27, who spotted the pair "slumped" on a bench on Sunday, said the couple in the CCTV images were "100%" the same people she had seen. She was leant in on him. "It looked like she had passed out maybe", the eyewitness said. "He was doing some unusual hand movements, looking up to the sky", Church told Reuters on Monday.

"However, the latter would have caused a wider response from PHE and the authorities".

"PHE understands that those exposed to the substances have been decontaminated", the health agency said in a statement.

Public records list Skripal as having an address in Salisbury.

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Mr Peskov said Mr Putin had received a briefing from defence minister Sergei Shoigu.

Counter-terrorism specialists have joined investigators in Salisbury to identify a substance that has left a former Russian spy and his 33-year-old daughter critically ill. Penkovsky was executed in 1963. He was released in 2010 under a high-profile spy swap that included four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies living in the United States, including Anna Chapman.

A small number of emergency services personnel were assessed immediately after the incident, and police said Tuesday that all but one had been discharged.

The mysterious illness has drawn comparisons to that of another Russian former intelligence officer, Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with a radioactive isotope. There are suspicions he was deliberately poisoned. The Russian government has denied any responsibility.

Prime Minister Theresa May convened her National Security Council to discuss the matter after Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that Russian Federation is a "malign and disruptive force".

"I have to say to the house it is sometimes hard, given the strong economic pressures exerted on other European economies", he said.

The Russian military said an An-26, with 26 passengers and six crew members onboard, crashed just 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the runway.

A Russian military cargo plane crashed as it was descending to land at an air base in Syria on Tuesday, killing all 32 people onboard, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Mark Galeotti, the head of the Center for European Security at the Institute of International Relations in Prague urged caution, noting that it wasn't yet clear what happened.

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