Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy now living in England, and his adult daughter, Yulia Skripal, were poisoned with a nerve agent, authorities say.
Skripal, 66, and 33-year-old Yulia were both in intensive care in critical condition after the poisoning. British authorities say the poisoning was purposeful, and they’ve launched a counter-terrorism investigation because of the unusual nature of the attack, which could rupture relations between Great Britain and Russia.
It’s not the first time that an ex-Russian spy has met a tragic fate on the streets of London, as the case brings to mind the death-by-poison of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Skripal allegedly had ties to Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent whose dossier on Donald Trump has upended American politics. However, the Steele ties are not proven.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Skripal & His Daughter Fell Ill After a Day of Shopping
In what feels like a spy movie or an episode of The Americans or maybe Red Sparrow, the Skripals were enjoying a day out shopping together when they both fell severely ill, according to USA Today. The attack occurred in the English city of Salisbury, which is located not far from London.
According to BBC, Skripal, a former army intelligence colonel, and his daughter “were found slumped on a bench outside the Maltings shopping centre.” It’s not known exactly where they came into contact with the nerve agent.
Police have closed down two establishments that they are investigating. “They are particularly keen to hear from people who ate at Zizzi or drank in The Bishop’s Mill pub between 13:00 and 16:00 GMT,” reported BBC.
A police officer who responded to the scene is now seriously ill as well, and that’s ramped up pressure on the British government to do something in response.
Police have not publicly revealed the nerve agent or how it was given to the Skripals, although they do know that information.
2. Skripal Came to Great Britain as Part of a Spy Swap
Sergei Skripal has lived in England since 2010, when he was freed from a Russian jail as part of a “spy swap” that unfolded “in return for 10 US-based Russian spies,” according to The Australian.
Before being swapped for the Russians, Skripal was languishing in a Russian jail after being caught giving Russian secrets to MI6, the British intelligence service. He was arrested in 2004 by the Russians when he was caught passing intel to the British, a double agent.
According to the Sun, Skripal used “a James Bond-style spy rock” and was known as the “Spy With the Louis Vuitton bag.” He was said to have received $100,000 to betray the Russians by giving the British classified information.
3. Skripal May Have Had Links to Christopher Steele, Who Wrote the Controversial Trump Dossier
As if the case didn’t already have the twists and turns of a spy novel, now comes news that Christopher Steele, the former British agent who compiled the salacious and unverified anti-Donald Trump dossier, may have connections to Skripal. The dossier, of course, is part of the back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats in the United States over the Robert Mueller investigation into Trump.
According to The Australian, “police are investigating links between critically ill Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and Christopher Steele, the British former spy who compiled an explosive dossier on US President Donald Trump.” Some allege that it’s possible that Skripal was a source for the dossier.
The Telegraph paints the link as one step removed, alleging that an unnamed “security consultant who has worked for the company that compiled the controversial dossier on Donald Trump was close to the Russian double agent” Sergei Skripal.
“The British security consultant…also lived in Salisbury and worked at Orbis Business Intelligence, the company run by Steele,” Raw Story reported.
However, the Guardian disputes claims that Skripal was a dossier source, reporting that “Before Steele went into private business he led MI6’s response to Litvinenko’s murder. Skripal was not a source and whatever he knew about Russian military intelligence was long out of date.”
4. A Series of Suspicious Deaths Are Now Being Studied in Britain
This is not the first time that tragedy has befallen a former Russian spy in England. Many people say the Skripal poisoning case bears similarities to the poisoning death of former spy in 2006, Litvinenko. The poison was slipped into Litvinenko’s cup of tea.
He collapsed in London and lived for three weeks after being exposed to what the BBC called “a rare and highly radioactive isotope.” He slowly perished in the hospital, drawing media attention from around the world.
“A British public inquiry found that the former Russian agent had ingested Polonium 210, and that his assassination was likely ordered directly by Russian President Vladimir Putin,” reported BBC. The network noted that some suggest that 14 other cases should be scrutinized, although the victims were reported to have died from “heart attacks, suicides, accidents, and deaths by natural causes.”
They include former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky and exiled banker Alexander Perepilichnyy. According to The Guardian, Berezovsky “was found dead in 2012 at the Berkshire home of his former wife. Police believe it was suicide. Berezovsky’s friends are not so sure.”
5. Yulia Skripal Criticized Vladimir Putin & Sergei Skripal’s Wife & Son Died Tragically
Yulia Skripal was no fan of Vladimir Putin, criticizing the Russian president on social media. In addition, Sergei “had feared for his life since his wife and son had died within five years, due to cancer and liver issues,” according to The Australian. Yulia’s Facebook page doesn’t contain many public posts but does say she worked at a Holiday Inn in Southampton in 2014 and was from Moscow. In 2010, she wrote that she was a customer operations representative in Moscow for Nike. She moved to London that same year.
She graduated from Moscow State Humanities University with a degree in Geography and once lived in Malta.
Sergei’s son, Alexander Skripal, 44, died of liver failure last year while on vacation in St. Petersburg, Russia, and his untimely death is being re-investigated as a result of what happened to his father and sister.
His cause of death is somewhat clouded though. Other reports say that Alexander died of a car crash, the Sun reported. Skripal’s wife, Lyudmila, died in 2012, supposedly from cancer. She was only 59.