Russian President Vladimir Putin says he was happy to hear that former double agent Sergei Skripal had been discharged from hospital, stressing that if a weapons-grade poison had been used, Skripal would have died on the spot.
Speaking at a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Putin said he had heard Skripal had been released from hospital.
"God give him health, we are very happy," the Russian president said. He added, however, that he doubts a weapons-grade toxin was used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK, in early March.
"I think that if, as our British colleagues claim, a weapons-grade poison had been used, that person would be dead on the spot. Combat chemicals are so strong that the person either dies immediately or within seconds, maybe minutes," Putin said.
He also reiterated Russia's willingness to help the investigation. "We have offered our British partners all the necessary help numerous times, and asked for access to the investigation. There has been no answer so far. Our offer remains on the table," the Russian leader concluded.
Sergei Skripal, a former Russian-UK double agent who had served a prison term for treason in Russia before moving to the UK, was poisoned in Salisbury on March 4, together with his daughter Yulia. In the immediate aftermath, British Prime Minister Theresa May claimed Russia was "highly likely" responsible because of the alleged origins of the nerve agent supposedly used in the poisoning. The case escalated into a diplomatic scandal, with the UK and its allies expelling dozens of Russian diplomats, and Moscow sending home a similar number in a mirror response.
The British NHS announced on Friday that Sergei Skripal had been discharged from hospital. No details of his condition or location have been revealed. Weeks earlier, Skripal's daughter Yulia was released in similar secrecy. Neither has been seen since, and their only communication with the outside world has been a statement released by the Metropolitan Police, supposedly on Yulia's behalf, which among other things refused the help which had been offered by the Russian embassy in London.
The Skripals are free to turn down the embassy's aid, but they should do so in person, Russian Ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko told a press conference on Friday.
"For today, nobody saw their pictures, nobody heard their voice, nobody saw whether they're alive or not… we should be sure that the person is alive, he is alright or she is alright, and [if they] say, for example, 'I don't need your services,' it's fine with us," he said.
Asked by a reporter, Yakovenko said Russia does not consider Skripal a traitor as his sentence had been served.
"He was sentenced, he spent six years in prison, he is cleared, he was freed and he decided to go to Britain. He is a free man, he is a Russian citizen as well as a British citizen, and he can do whatever he wishes. I think he settled his problems with the Russian state."
The ambassador himself only heard of Skripal after the Salisbury incident, he told another reporter.
"I had never heard of him and we never met him – no relations, no nothing. So when it happened in Salisbury, we started to read about who the person is, what he did in Russia, what he did here… basically, for us he was a new person, and now we know almost everything from the British press, except the evidence," Yakovenko said.
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