Poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal discharged from UK hospital

LONDON — Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal has been discharged from a British hospital more than two months after he was poisoned with a nerve agent and left fighting for his life, health officials said Friday.

Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, and spent weeks in critical condition.

Britain has accused Russia of poisoning the pair with a military-grade nerve agent, a claim Moscow denies. The poisoning has sparked a Cold War-style diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West, including the expulsion of hundreds of diplomats from both sides.

Salisbury District Hospital said Friday that all three people hospitalized in the attack — the Skripals and a police officer who came to their assistance — had now been released.

"We have been able to discharge Sergei Skripal," said Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing at the hospital. "This is an important stage in his recovery, which will now take place away from the hospital."

Yulia, 33, recovered more quickly than her father and was discharged last month. The Skripals have been taken to an undisclosed location for their safety.

Sergei Skripal is a former Russian intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain before coming to the U.K. as part of a 2010 prisoner swap. He had been living quietly in the cathedral city of Salisbury, 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of London, when he was struck down.

Britain says Russia poisoned the Skripals with a Soviet-designed nerve agent dubbed Novichok. Moscow denies the claim, and accused Britain of failing to provide any evidence and stonewalling Russian requests for information.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the news of Skripal's recovery gave him joy, but denounced the British explanation for his illness.

"If a military-grade agent had been used as our British colleagues claimed, the man would have died on the spot," Putin said Friday after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the southern Russian city of Sochi. "Thank God he has recovered, has walked out of the hospital and I hope will stay safe and healthy."

Russia's ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, said Britain had in effect kidnapped the Skripals. He accused Britain of breaking international law by not granting Russia consular access to them.

Yulia Skripal is a Russian citizen, while her father was granted British citizenship after settling in the U.K.

"You can call it detained, you can call it isolated, you can call it kidnap," Yakovenko told reporters in London.

"We are still demanding access to these people," he added. "We want to understand how they feel. We want them to tell (us) personally what they want. If they don't want our assistance, that's fine, but we want to see them physically."

The international chemical weapons watchdog has backed up Britain's conclusion that the Skripals were poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, but has not determined where it was produced.

British police say they believe the toxin was smeared on the door handle of Sergei Skripal's suburban house. Hundreds of counterterrorism officers and support staff have been assigned to the case but police have not yet named any suspects.

___

Frank Jordans in Sochi, Russia contributed to this report.

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