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Ex-Spy Skripal 'Improving Rapidly' After Poisoning

Sergei Skripal at a court hearing in Moscow in 2006
Sergei Skripal at a court hearing in Moscow in 2006

Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal is no longer in critical condition and is "improving rapidly" just over one month after being exposed to a potent nerve agent, hospital staff in England say.

Skripal "is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly, and is no longer in a critical condition," Christine Blanshard, medical director at Salisbury District Hospital, said on April 6.

The former double agent and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, have been hospitalized since they were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, in southern England, on March 4.

Britain accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin's government of trying to kill them with a military-grade chemical substance known as Novichok, which was developed in the Soviet Union.

Russia denies involvement, and the dispute has dramatically deepened tensions between Moscow and the West.

Britain, the United States, and many other Western countries have taken action, including expelling more than 150 Russian diplomats, many of them believed to be spies, and Russia has responded in kind.

The announcement that the 66-year-old Sergei Skripal's condition has improved came one day after British police issued a statement on behalf of Yulia Skripal, 33, quoting her as saying her strength "is growing daily."

Yulia Skripal "can look forward to the day when she is well enough to leave the hospital," Blanshard said, but added: "Any speculation on when that date will be is just that -- speculation."

Meanwhile, Britain's Interior Ministry announced on April 6 that it has rejected a visa application by Viktoria Skripal, the niece of the Russian ex-spy and cousin of Yulia Skripal.

In a statement, the ministry said Viktoria Skripal's visa application was refused "on the grounds that her application did not comply with the immigration rules."

Britain's announcement came a day after Russian state television broadcast what it said was a phone conversation between Yulia Skripal and her cousin, Viktoria.

Hosts on Russia's state-run Rossia 1 television program 60 Minutes said they obtained the recording from Viktoria Skripal, but could not guarantee its authenticity.

In the recording, a woman introduced herself by saying "Yulia Skripal speaking." She also said she expects to be leaving the hospital soon and that her father is "fine."

"Everything is fine [with Sergei]. He is resting now, he is sleeping. Everyone's health is fine. There is nothing that is irreversible. That's it, I'll be discharged soon. Everything is ok," the woman in the recording said.

Viktoria Skripal also told Russian state television that her cousin had told her that British authorities "will not give you a visa."

British officials have described the poisoning as "the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable."

The United States and other Western nations have supported the British position, but Moscow claims that London has failed to provide sufficient evidence to back up its accusation and asserts that the nerve agent could have been produced outside Russia.

Also on April 6, the Russian Defense Ministry’s official publication said that specialists from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) carried out an inspection at an undisclosed location in Russia last week.

It was not clear whether the inspection was connected to the nerve-agent poisoning in England, but Reuters cited a diplomatic source as saying that is unlikely.

On its website, the newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda published a graphic showing military-related events over the past week that included a mention of two military inspections by “foreign specialists on the territory of the Russian Federation.”

One of them was conducted by an “inspection group of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW," it said. The website didn’t provide any further details and Defense Ministry officials have not commented.

Reuters quoted a source who spoke on condition of anonymity because of OPCW confidentiality rules as saying "it must have been related to a regular inspection" of a chemical-industry site.

In 2017, Russia said that it completed the destruction of some 40,000 tons of chemical weapons that it had declared to the global chemical-weapons watchdog.

A British court gave OPCW specialists blood samples taken from Sergei and Yulia Skripal for tests, and the agency is also checking the toxin used in the attack.

Russia wants to be involved in investigations into the poisoning, but its call for a joint probe failed when it was outvoted at an emergency OPCW meeting on April 4.

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel in Russia’s military intelligence agency, was convicted of treason in 2006 by a Russian court that found him guilty of spying for Britain.

Russia released him from prison in 2010, sending him to the West in a Cold War-style spy swap in which 10 people found to be sleeper agents were returned to Russia from the United States, and he moved to Britain.

With reporting by BBC and Reuters
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