Kremlin says ex-spy’s daughter could have been ‘pressured’ into video

MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Thursday said Yulia Skripal, who was poisoned with her ex-spy father in Britain in March, could have been pressured into making a video saying she was not ready to return to Russia.

On Wednesday Yulia Skripal said she one day hoped to return to her home country but first needed to get better, and turned down the offer of assistance from Russian diplomats in the UK.

The statement — her first media appearance since the March 4 poisoning — was recorded by Reuters and broadcast on national television in Russia.

“We have no reason to trust or believe in this,” Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the video.

“As before, we don’t know what sort of condition Yulia Skripal is in, we don’t know whether she made this statement of her own free will or whether she was pressured,” Peskov told journalists.

Russian ambassador to London Alexander Yakovenko has repeatedly demanded access to Yulia Skripal.

After her video statement, the Russian embassy in London said Wednesday it was happy to see that Skripal was “in good health”.

But the diplomatic mission suggested she might be held in Britain against her will and insisted that Russian diplomats needed to see her.

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found slumped on a bench in the English city of Salisbury in March, sparking a bitter diplomatic crisis between Moscow and London, which says a Soviet-made nerve agent dubbed novichok was used on the pair.

Moscow has furiously denied any involvement.

Yulia, on Wednesday gave her first videotaped statement since the attack, describing her recovery as “slow and extremely painful” and saying that she hoped someday to return to Russia.

Skripal spoke to Reuters from an undisclosed location in London and, apart from a scar on her neck, apparently from a tracheotomy, appeared to have no visible after-effects from the nerve agent, one of a strain of lethal poisons developed during the last years of the Soviet Union. She was shown walking along a leafy path, wearing a flowery dress, her hair newly styled.

Skripal’s appearance seemed intended to quell speculation, promulgated by the Russian government, that Britain had fabricated the March 4 poisoning of Skripal and her father, Sergei V. Skripal, or was keeping them prisoner. Viktoria Skripal, a cousin living in Russia who has openly questioned British reports, has twice been denied visas to the United Kingdom.

Britain has blamed Moscow for the attack, an accusation the Kremlin has denied, and the dispute precipitated a series of expulsions of diplomats between the two countries and beyond.

“My life has been turned upside down as I try to come to terms with the devastating changes thrust upon me both physically and emotionally,” Skripal said, speaking in Russian. “I take one day at a time and want to help care for my dad until his full recovery. In the longer term I hope to return to my country.”

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, was released from a Russian prison and sent to Britain in a 2010 prisoner exchange. He has lived in Salisbury since then, occasionally travelling to brief foreign governments on Russia’s military intelligence service. He and Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury on March 4.

Yulia Skripal expressed her deep shock upon waking up after a 20-day induced coma and learning that she had been poisoned with a nerve agent.

She also said that “at the moment” she did not desire any help from Russia’s embassy in London, which has issued a drumbeat of statements protesting Russia’s lack of access to the Skripals.

“Also, I want to reiterate what I said in my earlier statement, that no one speaks for me or for my father but ourselves,” she said.

British officials have made little comment on the Skripal case for weeks, but Russian television continues to feature the case prominently, and broadcast a special on it to coincide with the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Saturday.

The special included an interview with Sergei Skripal’s 89-year-old mother, who begged the British authorities to grant her access to her son.

Wiping away tears, she said she had not seen him for 14 years and that she wanted “to clasp my son firmly to myself, to my heart.”

“Please, allow me to make just one phone call with my son,” she said in a statement broadcast on a Russian talk show, “Let Them Speak.” “But why don’t they allow him to phone? Why? What is the reason?”



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