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Third Russian faces charges over Salisbury poisonings, UK police say

Political espionage updates

A third Russian faces charges over the poisoning in Salisbury of a former intelligence agent, UK police have said, the latest development in a case that caused the biggest crisis between London and Moscow since the Cold War.

London’s Metropolitan Police said on Tuesday that prosecutors had authorised charges against a man known as Sergey Fedotov over poisonings in 2018, including conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who defected to the UK.

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, became seriously ill in March 2018 after apparently being poisoned with the nerve agent novichok at their home in Salisbury in south-west England. Nick Bailey, a policeman who responded to a call about the case, also became seriously ill.

In June 2018, a woman in nearby Amesbury, Dawn Sturgess, died after her boyfriend Charlie Rowley apparently found a perfume bottle containing novichok. Rowley became critically ill from contact with the poison.

UK prosecutors in September 2018 charged two men known as Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov — both, like Fedotov, identified as officers in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service — with involvement in the poisonings. None of the suspects is in UK custody and Russia denies any involvement in the incident.

Sergey Fedotov
Prosecutors have authorised charges against a man known as Sergey Fedotov © Metropolitan Police/AFP

The Salisbury incident led to the biggest round of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats since the end of the Cold War, with the UK expelling 23 Russian diplomats in protest, its European and US allies expelling 100 and Russia expelling more than 150 western diplomats.

Police said that, in addition to the conspiracy charge, Fedotov was charged with the attempted murders of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and Nick Bailey; causing grievous bodily harm with intent to Yulia Skripal and Bailey and possession and use of a chemical weapon.

Novichok is a deadly poison developed by Soviet scientists in the 1970s and linked with a series of attacks on figures opposed to Vladimir Putin’s Russian government. It was blamed for the poisoning last year of Alexei Navalny, the leading Russian opposition activist.

The Metropolitan Police said it had uncovered evidence showing Sergey Fedotov was an alias for Denis Sergeev, a member of the GRU. It said evidence supported the identification of Boshirov and Petrov as Anatoliy Chepiga and Alexander Mishkin, also members of the Russian intelligence service.

The force said Fedotov arrived at London Heathrow Airport on March 2, 2018, around four hours before the two other men arrived at London Gatwick. It said he stayed in central London and met the other two men on more than one occasion before leaving the UK on March 4, 2018 — the day the Skripals’ poisoning was discovered.

Dean Haydon, the Met’s deputy assistant commissioner for counter-terrorism, said the latest charges marked “another significant development” in the force’s investigation.

“Whilst public attention gradually moved away from what happened in Salisbury and Amesbury, the investigation team has remained absolutely focused,” he said.

Russia’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to the new charges.

They came as the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Moscow was to blame for the death of Alexander Litvinenko, another Russian dissident attacked in the UK. Litvinenko died in 2006 after apparently being poisoned with Polonium-210, a rare isotope of the radioactive element.

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