Russian president attacks former spy but angrily denies Kremlin ordered his poisoning
Vladimir Putin has called the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal a scumbag and a traitor, as he angrily denied allegations that the Kremlin ordered his poisoning with a nerve agent.
Speaking at an energy forum in Moscow, the Russian president accused the west of portraying Skripal, who was poisoned with novichok in Salisbury, as an innocent victim.
I see that some of your colleagues are pushing the theory that Mr Skripal was almost some kind of human rights activist, Putin said following a question from a moderator.
He was simply a spy. A traitor to the motherland. There is such a concept a traitor to the motherland. He was one of those.
Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found slumped on a park bench in the English city on 4 March. Britain says Russian intelligence officers poisoned them with novichok.
Putin, a former intelligence officer, has angrily decried traitors before. He has said he cannot forgive disloyalty and traitors will kick the bucket.
Of Skripal, he said on Wednesday: Hes simply a scumbag, thats all.
Following the poisoning of the Skripals, a woman died after she came into contact with the poison, which her partner found in a discarded perfume bottle, according to British police. The novichok used was one of a number of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union.
Addressing the death of the woman, Dawn Sturgess, he said: You want to tell me that we also poisoned some homeless person? What is this nonsense?
It coincided with the final day of the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, and came hours after Theresa May pointed to her tough response to the Salisbury poisoning as a sign of her resolve to push back against Russia.
Attention has focused on two Russian men who British prosecutors say were intelligence agents sent to kill Skripal.
Investigative journalists claim they have identified one of the two men as Col Anatoliy Chepiga, a military intelligence officer who strongly resembles one of the two suspects. British police had earlier said the two men travelled under aliases.
The Kremlin has said it will not help secure an interview with the suspects or discuss speculation as to their identities, despite the fact that Putin had originally called on them to come forward and protest their innocence on television.
Russian television presented the two suspects, naming them as Boshirov and Petrov, as tourists who travelled twice to Salisbury because they were determined to see the citys cathedral. But many of the elements of their story did not ring true: while the men said they travelled to the city to see the cathedral, they were caught on CCTV walking in the opposite direction, near Skripals house.
Moscow has continued to deny the suspects are Russian agents, despite British insistence that there is evidence the two men have ties to the state and scepticism at home over their TV interview. A report in Russias Kommersant newspaper also said people who knew Chepiga in his home region of Amur had recognised him as the suspect as identified by British police.
Putins remarks on Wednesday appeared aimed at returning the discussion to the Skripals and moving it away from the suspects.
The use of a nerve agent in the UK by Russian agents has led to the worst diplomatic fallout between London and Moscow since the cold war. The UK and its allies expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats as a result of the poisoning.
Of the political fallout, Putin said on Wednesday: I think it will pass. The sooner, the better.