Russia Calls Spy Poisoning Claims 'Absurd Theater'—Here's What The Evidence Says

Updated | Russia's envoy to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzia told a Security Council meeting that allegations the Kremlin is behind the poisoning of a double-agent living in England are a "theater of the absurd".

Western powers, including the U.S., support the U.K. conclusion that the Russian state is culpable for the chemical attack on former military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, in Salisbury, England.

Skripal was convicted in Russia of spying for the British during a 2006 trial and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap deal and settled in England.

Russia strongly denies any involvement in poisoning the Skripals, who are both still in hospital. Yulia Skripal has regained consciousness and is showing signs of recovery. Her father is also no longer in a critical condition and improving rapidly.

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks as he meets with confidants at his campaign headquarters in Moscow on March 18, 2018. Russia is warning of a new Cold War with the West over its response to the Skripal poisonings. YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images

So what does the evidence say? Here's what we know about the case against Russia—and why the Kremlin rejects it.

On Sunday March 4, the two Skripals were found unconscious on a bench in the center of Salisbury having been out for a meal in the afternoon.

They were rushed to hospital, fighting for their lives.

Toxicology tests by experts at the British government's Porton Down science facility found the Skripals were poisoned by a nerve agent in the novichok family.

Novichok nerve agents were developed by Russian government chemists. Their existence was revealed publicly in the 1990s by defectors and whistleblowers.

One of those scientists, Vil Mirzayanov, published a book about his work developing and improving novichok. He now lives in the U.S.

"Novichok was invented and studied and experimented and many tons were produced only in Russia. Nobody knew in this world," Mirzayanov told Reuters.

British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed it is "highly likely" the Russian government was behind the attack on the Skripals.

May gave Russia an ultimatum: explain how this could have happened with a Russian nerve agent or face the assumption that the Kremlin was involved.

Under the multilateral Chemical Weapons Convention, chemical weapon stockpiles are supposed to be destroyed, no more produced, and any research samples kept secure by governments.

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Former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal attends a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court in Moscow on August 9, 2006. YURI SENATOROV/AFP/Getty Images

Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) at Porton Down, confirmed to Sky News that his chemists identified it as the military-grade nerve agent novichok.

Aitkenhead said DSTL could not confirm where this particular novichok was manufactured because "it is not our job", instead pointing to the work of intelligence agencies in determining this.

But he said the nerve agent DSTL analyzed required "extremely sophisticated methods to create, probably something only in the capabilities of a state actor." Russia is the only state known to have produced novichoks.

Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, claimed on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that intelligence services have "evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purpose of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling novichok."

Counterterrorism investigators working on the case believe the Skripals may have encountered novichok on the the door to their Salisbury home, possibly in the form of a gel smeared on the handle. A high concentration of novichok was found on the door.

"We are therefore focusing much of our efforts in and around their address," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dean Haydon of the Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing.

The British government also believes Russia has sufficient motive for targeting Skripal.

Not only would it be revenge for his work as a double-agent, but it would also send a brutal message of deterrence to others either considering or already working against the Russian state.

It potentially also served as a rallying cry ahead of the Russian election, giving Putin and his allies a chance to whip up patriotic sentiment as the country came under fire from the West.

There is also precedent: an inquest in Britain found that the 2006 assassination of former Russian intelligence officer-turned-Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by polonium-210, was "probably approved" by Putin. It was carried out by Russian politician Andrey Lugovoy in London.

Sergei Skripal poisoning
Members of the fire brigade are helped out of their green biohazard suits after they secured the area where Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found, in Salisbury, U.K., on March 8. Skripal, the former Russian double agent, was poisoned with a nerve toxin and may never regain his full mental capacity, a British judge has warned, adding that the same goes for his daughter. BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Another 14 deaths of Russians with connections to the Kremlin on British soil are being rexamined by police amid suspicions of foul play after the Skripal attack.

In total, 28 countries, including the U.S., France and Germany, accepted the U.K. case against Russia. There was a mass expulsion of Russian diplomats and spies in solidarity with Britain. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is currently investigating, but the Russian government dismisses the allegations.

It claims to have no motive and instead pushes a conspiracy theory that the British government could have been behind the attempted murder because Porton Down is near Salisbury.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, suggested a British motive for attacking the Skripals would be to distract from Brexit.

"Let's speak cynically," Nebenzia told the UN. "Why did Russia wait eight years and decide to act two weeks before the election and a few months before the World Cup?

"Why was he even released from the country in the first place? Why eliminate him in that strange and dangerous manner?"

Nebenzia also pointed out that the would-be assassin "didn't really finish the job" and raised doubts about the accuracy of British intelligence, alluding to the infamous "dodgy dossier" on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

This article was updated to include the most recent information on the condition of Sergei Skripal.

Russia Calls Spy Poisoning Claims 'Absurd Theater'—Here's What The Evidence Says | World