British government ministers met Saturday to discuss the case of a Russian man and his daughter who were mysteriously poisoned by a rare nerve agent in the town of Salisbury nearly a week ago.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Saturday after the meeting that it is still “too early” to assign blame for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, both of whom are hospitalized in critical condition.
Meanwhile, about 180 British soldiers have been deployed to Salisbury, a normally quiet town in southwestern England, to help officials decontaminate the area.
Rudd said more than 240 pieces of evidence have been collected and 200 witnesses have been identified in the case.
“I want to stress that they are proceeding with speed and professionalism,” she said, adding that the government is making available “enormous resources to ensure that they have all the support they need.”
Three sites under investigation
Officials have also cordoned off an Italian restaurant and a pub that Skripal and his daughter visited before their collapse as well as a cemetery where Skripal’s wife, Lyudmila, is buried and where there is also a memorial headstone for his son, Alexander.
Lyudmila died in 2012 from cancer, while Alexander was cremated last year after reportedly dying of liver problems at the age of 43.
Detectives are retracing the Skripals’ movements as they try to discover how and where the toxin was administered.
Officials say 21 people in Salisbury have received medical treatment as a result of the nerve agent, including a police officer who is in serious condition.
Police have not publicly talked about the nerve agent that poisoned the Skripals or who might have been responsible. But suspicions are pointing to Russia.
'Pushed around' by Kremlin
British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said Britain is being “pushed around” by the Kremlin.
Prime Minister Theresa May has promised an appropriate response if it is discovered that Russia is responsible for poisoning the Skripals, but has urged caution.
“Let’s give the police the time and space to actually conduct their investigation,” May told ITV news Thursday.
Russian officials deny the Kremlin had anything to do with the assassination attempt.
Life as double agent
Skripal served in Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU, and was exchanged in a spy swap in 2010 on the runway at Vienna’s airport.
After serving four years in prison in Russia for spying for Britain’s espionage service, MI6, Skripal was one of four Russian double agents exchanged for 10 Russians expelled from the United States, including Manhattan socialite Anna Chapman.
The incident is drawing comparisons to the case of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian KGB officer-turned-British intelligence agent and a highly public critic of President Vladimir Putin.
Litvinenko died an agonizing death days after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 in a London hotel in 2006. British doctors struggled in that case to identify the substance that killed him.
A British inquiry concluded Putin probably approved the killing. The conclusion was angrily dismissed by the Kremlin as a politically motivated smear.