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Victim Of Nerve Agent Attack In U.K. Says She's Recovering Quickly


The poisoning case that has sparked an international diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West is boiling over again. The United Nations Security Council met today on the issue at Russia's request. Moscow is challenging Britain's insistence that the Kremlin was behind the March 4 nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in southern England. NPR's Joanna Kakissis brings us this update from London.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: A month ago, Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found slumped on a park bench in the city of Salisbury where Sergei lives. Britain says the Skripals had been exposed to Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. Both were in critical condition until last week when Yulia awoke. She said in a statement released today that she's recovering after, quote, "a disorienting experience." Russian TV has released audio of a phone call purported to be between Yulia and her relative Viktoria Skripal.


YULIA SKRIPAL: (Speaking Russian).

KAKISSIS: In the call, the woman identified as Viktoria asks about Sergei Skripal. The voice identified as Yulia responds that Sergei is resting, has no irreversible damage and will be discharged soon. But chemical weapons expert Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is skeptical.

HAMISH DE BRETTON-GORDON: In knowing how deadly these nerve agents are, you know, that the assertion in that telephone conversation he's fine really goes against everything else we know.

KAKISSIS: He's also not convinced that the voice Russian media identify is Yulia Skripal is really her. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says it's Britain that's twisting the facts.


SERGEY LAVROV: (Through interpreter) This case has been used as an orchestrated pretext for the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats not only from the US and Britain but also from other countries who had their arms twisted.

KAKISSIS: The Kremlin had its opening to pounce when British foreign secretary Boris Johnson told a German broadcaster that the U.K.'s defense laboratory, Porton Down, had confirmed that the Novichok came from Russia.


BORIS JOHNSON: They were absolutely categorical. I mean, I asked the guy myself. I said, are you sure? And he said there's no doubt.

KAKISSIS: But Porton Down's chief executive said it's not the lab's job to confirm where the nerve agent came from. Russia's ambassador to the U.K., Alexander Yakovenko, then suggested that it's Britain that should be scrutinized.


ALEXANDER YAKOVENKO: We have a lot of suspicions about Britain, you know? So many Russian citizens died here in the U.K. under very strange circumstances.

KAKISSIS: He's referring to the suspicious deaths of at least 14 critics of the Kremlin. Meanwhile in New York, Britain's new ambassador to the U.N., Karen Pierce, said Russia's statements appear to be aimed at undermining an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.


KAREN PIERCE: And all I'd say on that is we as U.K. have nothing to hide. We look forward to the report. We ask, what have the Russians got to fear?

KAKISSIS: The chemical weapons watchdog is expected to release its report next week. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis
Joanna Kakissis is an international correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she leads NPR's bureau and coverage of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.