London: The former Russian spy who was found slumped in an English city after being poisoned is no longer in critical condition and is “improving rapidly,” the hospital treating him said on Friday.
It was the first official news on the condition of Sergei Skripal, 66, since he and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned on a bench on March 4 in Salisbury.
The affair has sparked a bitter diplomatic crisis between London and Moscow and prompted a wave of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats between Russia and the West.
Skripal “is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition,” said Salisbury District Hospital director Christine Blanshard.
As for his daughter, “her strength is growing daily and she can look forward to the day when she is well enough to leave the hospital”, Blanshard added.
Britain blames Russia for the poisoning of the Skripals — a charge the Kremlin furiously denies.
The first public comments by Yulia Skripal since the poisoning emerged on Thursday.
“My strength is growing daily,” she was quoted as saying in comments released by the police. Moscow earlier on Friday rejected a British news report that the nerve agent Britain says was used against Skripal came from a military facility on the Volga River.
On Thursday, The Times newspaper cited British security sources saying they believed the Novichok nerve agent was manufactured at a facility in the town of Shikhany southeast of Moscow. “We are aware of claims of this sort by our British colleagues,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on a visit to Belarus.
“We will not trust in them, we would like to check them but they are not letting us do that.”
He accused London of trying “feverishly and convulsively to look for some new confirmation of their absolutely indefensible position.”
Russian officials said earlier on Friday that no chemical weapons were ever stored at Shikhany, although they stopped short of specifically addressing the claim that Novichok was made there.
“This laboratory was never part of the scope of our work,” Mikhail Babich, the Kremlin’s envoy in the Volga region and former chairman of the state commission for chemical disarmament, told Interfax news agency. “All the bases where chemical weapons were stored are well-known. Shikhany is not one of them.”
He said there used to be another such facility in the surrounding Saratov region but it was not located in Shikhany.
The Times report came after the British defence laboratory analysing the nerve agent said that it could not say whether the substance came from Russia.