Yulia Skripal, the daughter of an ex-Soviet spy likely poisoned by Russia, was discharged from the hospital after a month of treatment.
It’s a remarkable recovery for Yulia, as she and her father, Sergei Skripal, were both in critical condition last month. At that point, it seemed both of them might die. The 33-year-old is now in an undisclosed secure location — likely to keep her safe after the murder attempt — but she is still not completely healthy.
“This is not the end of her treatment but marks a significant milestone,” Christine Blanshard, the medical director of the Salisbury, England, hospital, said on Tuesday. Shortly after she heard about Yulia’s discharge, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said, “I wish her the best for her continuing recovery.”
Sergei, meanwhile, still requires medical treatment, but doctors hope he can leave the hospital soon.
This moment was a month in the making. The saga began on March 4, when Sergei and Yulia were found unconscious on a Salisbury bench. According to May, they were poisoned with a chemical weapon known as Novichok — one of the world’s most lethal nerve agents — in Salisbury, where Sergei lived.
British authorities immediately accused Russia of carrying out the attack and moved fast to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for crossing what officials across Europe described as a red line. The UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats just days after the attack, the UK’s largest removal of foreign officials in more than 30 years. Then in a joint statement on March 15, the leaders of the US, UK, France, and Germany said it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack.”
All of that set the stage for March 26, when the US and other British allies around the globe took the unprecedented step of jointly ordering the expulsion of at least 100 Russian spies from their countries. President Donald Trump expelled 60 Russian intelligence officers and closed a Russian consulate in Seattle on March 26. Nearly a dozen European countries also affirmed they would kick out Russian officials, but they all fell far short of America’s large purge. Even New Zealand tried to kick out Russian spies but couldn’t find any.
Moscow denies it had anything to do with the murders, and Russia’s embassy in London offered an ominous congratulations to Yulia on Twitter:
We congratulate Yulia Skripal on her recovery. Yet we need urgent proof that what is being done to her is done on her own free will.— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) April 10, 2018
But experts told me they had no doubt Russia was at fault for the brazen assassination attempt in the heart of Europe. “This is a classic Kremlin playbook [move],” Rachel Rizzo, a European security expert at the Center for a New American Security think tank, told me on March 14.
That makes sense: Russia has a history of targeting people in the UK that Moscow believes are enemies of the state. The Skripals, unfortunately, are now the most recent high-profile victims.
“We’ve seen this happen before, and we’ll see it happen again”
The attack on the Skripals wasn’t an isolated incident. Russia has a longstanding campaign to identify and kill Russian dissidents living in the UK.
US intelligence links at least 14 deaths in the UK to Russia, including outspoken oligarchs and journalists. “We know the Russians have an active program of killing people in the UK that they don’t like,” a British intelligence officer told Steven Hall, a former CIA official focused on Russia, according to BuzzFeed News.
The Skripals’ case has drawn comparisons to one of those murders: that of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian spy and defector to the UK. In 2006, two Russian agents put polonium-210 — a highly radioactive chemical — in Litvinenko’s tea at a London hotel bar. It took weeks for Litvinenko to die, and he blamed Putin for orchestrating the attack.
“You may succeed in silencing one man,” Litvinenko said from his hospital bed, “but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.” Russia continues to deny any involvement in Litvinenko’s death.
There are other cases as well. In 2013, Boris Berezovsky, then a Russian oligarch, died on a bathroom floor in his home outside London. Berezovsky was a Putin critic — at one point, he called for a coup against Putin — who blamed the Kremlin for Litvinenko’s death. Berezovsky eventually tried to go back to Russia, but he died before Putin granted his request to return.
That, in part, is why analysts suspected Russia from the start. “We’ve seen this happen before, and we’ll see it happen again,” Rizzo told me. That means the Skripals may not be Russia’s last victims, regardless of the Western pushback.