Federal Security Service (FSB) of Russia had seemingly arrested former military intelligence officer Sergei Viktorovich Skripal in 2004 for acting as an agent for the British intelligence service. Moscow claimed that he had revealed his identity to the British foreign intelligence service – MI6 – in exchange of pecuniary and other benefits. Later in 2006, he was tried, convicted of high treason and imprisoned for 13 years. Skripal settled in Britain in 2010 as a part of the ‘Illegal Programme Spy Swap’ between Moscow and London. One Russian jet and a British jet landed on the tarmac of Vienna International Airport, where 10 passengers (read spies) from both exchanged their places. The ‘double agent’ might have had the thought that Britain would be a safe haven for him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so!

Skripal and his daughter Yulia were admitted to Salisbury District Hospital in critical condition, earlier this week. Although the global community has accused Russia of trying to ‘assassinate’ Skripal and his daughter, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peshkov said that it was a tragic incident and Moscow had no information about him. He also said that Kremlin was ready to help Britain catch the person who tried to poison Skripal by using ‘unusual’ nerve agent (as claimed by the British media).

Thirty-three-year-old Yulia recently arrived in Britain to meet her 66-year-old father. Now, they are fighting for their lives. The hospital reportedly stated that Sergei and Yulia were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping centre in Salisbury on Sunday (March 4) afternoon. According to the hospital authorities, doctors managed to identify the nerve agent that was used on the father-daughter duo, but didn’t reveal its name. Meanwhile, head of Britain’s Counter Terrorism Policing Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley said: “The nerve agent used was an unusual one and could probably only be developed in a state-sponsored laboratory.”

Surprisingly, the police personnel – who rescued Sergei and his daughter – became unwell. However, their condition is not so serious. Although there is no evidence of a widespread health hazard to the public, the local authorities have closed a restaurant temporarily as a precautionary measure. Public Heath England issued a statement, saying that the police are guarding Skripal’s Salisbury residence and a yellow forensic tent has been set up there, as the police are trying to find out whether assailants attacked the double agent with radioactive polonium.

Incidentally, Alexander Litvinenko was murdered at Millennium Hotel in London in 2006 soon after Skripal was imprisoned. Litvinenko – a former officer in Russia’s FSB spy agency and an outspoken critic of President Putin – was reportedly poisoned with a cup of tea in the hotel. He, too, took shelter in Britain after leaving his job. Later, the Scotland Yard found evidence that radioactive polonium was used to kill Litvinenko. As usual, Kremlin denied the allegation that it had eliminated the ‘retired’ spy.

This attempt to eliminate Skripal didn’t shock Litvinenko’s wife Marina. She said:  “It’s like deja vu, (like) what happened to me 11 years ago. He must have thought he was safe. They had done the spy swap and that was the end of the matter and he thought he could live a normal life.” “He was not a defector, he was not attacking Putin, he kept a low profile, so why should he be a target?” asked the widow of Alexander.

Meanwhile, Alexander Goldfarb – a Russian dissident who was a friend of Alexander Litvinenko – recalled that Britain had accused two Russians with intelligence connections (Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun) of carrying out the murder. He stressed: “What’s interesting now is that this happens just before Russia’s Presidential Election. President Putin awarded Lugovoi a state honour and made him a national hero. He apparently sees positive electoral gain from this kind of activity. Russia is a nationalistic country where state-run propaganda portrays the UK as the enemy and people, like Skripal, as traitors.”

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]