London: The former Russian double agent and his daughter, who are recovering in a UK hospital from a deadly nerve agent poisoning, will be offered new identities and repatriated to the US with the help of the CIA, a media report has claimed.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia are said to no longer be in a critical condition at a hospital in Salisbury, where they have been treated since being discovered slumped on a bench in the Wiltshire town in south-west England on March 4.
British intelligence officials at MI6 have had discussions with their counterparts in the CIA about resettling the father and daughter, ‘The Sunday Times’ reported.
“They will be offered new identities,” the newspaper quoted a senior figure from the UK political establishment as saying.
Both victims are said to be conscious and ready to help investigators with their inquiries into the nerve agent attack, which the UK government believes was masterminded by the Kremlin.
For Britain to help the pair, a senior police officer is expected to issue the Skripals with a so-called “Osman warning”, a formal notification that intelligence suggests there is a real and immediate “threat to life”.
They could then be placed under a witness protection programme on the basis that the pair holds key evidence about a possible motive for the attack.
That could involve moving them to a “safe house” and being given round the clock armed police protection as well as new identities.
Security sources told the newspaper that Britain would want to ensure their safety by relocating them with one of the “five eyes” countries, the UK’s intelligence-sharing partnership which includes the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Yulia, 33, a Russian citizen, has reportedly rejected demands by the Russian embassy in London to offer her and her father with consular support, a move that has convinced British officials she might move to the West permanently, the report said.
While her 66-year-old father is also awake now, British officials have warned that life for the Skripals “would likely never be the same again” and that they could have injuries that would “require ongoing medical care”.
Meanwhile, UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson accused Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn of being “the Kremlin’s useful idiot” for refusing to blame Russia for the poison plot.
Mr Johnson said the Labour leader was playing “Putin’s game” by refusing to say “unequivocally that the Russian state was responsible”.
“There is only one thing that gives the Kremlin succour and lends false credibility to its propaganda onslaught. That is when politicians from the targeted countries join in. Sadly, I am driven to the conclusion that Jeremy Corbyn has joined this effort,” he wrote in ‘The Sunday Times.
A Labour party spokesperson hit back, claiming that the minister had “made a fool of himself and undermined the government” by misrepresenting the findings of the Porton Down laboratory on the source of the nerve agent.
The lab had said last week it was not the scientists’ responsibility to pinpoint the origin of the military-grade Novichok but only its type, contradicting Mr Johnson’s claim that scientists were “categorical” the deadly nerve agent came from Russia.
“Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly said the evidence points to Russia being responsible, directly or indirectly, and that the Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of evidence,” the Labour spokesperson said.
The Russian government has repeatedly denied being responsible for the poisoning of the Skripals, as diplomatic relations between Moscow and the West took a turn for the worst with a number of countries expelling Russian diplomats as a show of support for the UK.
Moscow has said it wants the UK to “engage constructively” with the request for its UK ambassador Alexander Yakovenko to hold face-to-face talks with Mr Johnson.
But the UK Foreign Office has branded the move as a “diversionary tactic”.
“Now, after failing in their attempts in the UN and international chemical weapons watchdog this week and with the victims’ condition improving, they seem to be pursuing a different diversionary tactic. We will of course consider their request and respond in due course,” a Foreign Office spokersperson said.