LONDON (AP) — The daughter of a former Russian spy poisoned by a nerve agent said Thursday in her first public comment that she’s recovering even as the international furor over the attack intensified, with Russia warning Britain it is “playing with fire.”
At the United Nations, Russia claimed that intelligence services of other countries were probably behind the attack. But Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Karen Piece shot back that Russia has come up with 24 theories on who bears responsibility for the poisoning, but the United Kingdom has only one — that it’s highly likely Russia was responsible.
Yulia Skripal, 33, said in a statement released by British police that her “strength is growing daily” and she expressed gratitude to those who came to her aid when she and her father, Sergei, were found unconscious on a bench a month ago.
“I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you’ll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence,” she said.
The hospital in the English city of Salisbury confirmed that Yulia’s health has improved, while her 66-year-old father, Sergei Skripal, remains in critical condition.
At the U.N., the confrontation between Russia and Britain and more than two dozen Western allies who have expelled over 150 Russian diplomats in a show of solidarity intensified.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia claimed that Russia that was the victim of a hasty, sloppy and ill-intentioned defamation campaign by Britain and its allies.
Moscow assumes “with a high degree of probability” that the intelligence services of other countries are likely responsible for the incident, Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.
“Since the British authorities dare to state that behind the incident in Salisbury is Russia’s responsibility with a high degree of probability, well we also with a high degree of probability are assuming that the intelligence services of certain countries are behind the mega-provocation,” he said.
Nebenzia said “everything confirms this is a coordinated, very well-planned campaign” intended “to discredit and even delegitimize Russia.”
He refused to name the intelligence services that Russia suspects, but said their goal is to accuse Moscow of using “a horrible, inhumane weapon, of concealing the arsenal of this substance,” of violating the Chemical Weapons Convention, and putting in question Russia’s “role not only in finding a solution in Syria, but anywhere else.”
He also warned: “We have told our British colleagues that you are playing with fire and you will be sorry.”
Britain’s Pierce said Russia’s 24 theories for the attack include blaming it on terrorists and saying Britain wanted to distract from Brexit, its departure from the European Union.
After trading barbs about Sherlock Holmes, Nebenzia and Pierce resorted to nonsensical fantasy with the Russian ambassador reading a passage from Alice in Wonderland and the British ambassador responding with a witty passage from the book that says: “I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Adding to the intrigue was a recording aired Thursday by Russian state Rossiya TV of a purported phone call between Yulia Skripal and her cousin in Russia. In the call, Yulia Skripal allegedly said she and her father were both recovering and in normal health, and that her father’s health was not irreparably damaged.
Rossiya TV said Skripal’s niece, Viktoria, who lives in Moscow, gave it the purported recording, although the broadcaster said it could not verify its authenticity.
Moscow has steadfastly hammered away at Britain’s account of what befell the Skripals on March 4, especially the claim that their exposure to a Novichok nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union meant the attack was carried out by Russia.
During the Security Council meeting, Nebenzia questioned the British government’s claims of Russian responsibility by posing a series of questions.
He asked why the British policeman was affected by the nerve agent immediately when it took four hours for Skirpal and his daughter to be affected. He asked what antidotes for exposure to Novichok the Skripals were given, where the Skirpals were for four hours without cellphones on the day of the attack, and what happened to two cats and two guinea pigs in the Skirpal’s house.
Russia has said it never produced Novichok and completed the destruction of its chemical arsenals under international control last year. Nebenzia insisted that Britain is required to allow Russia to cooperate in the investigation.
“Great Britain refuses to cooperate with us on the pretext that the victim does not cooperate with the criminal,” he said. “A crime was committed on British territory, possibly a terrorist act, and it is our citizens who are the victims.”
He said both Skripal and Yulia are Russian citizens, and Moscow must be granted access to them.
Pierce said the U.K. has left it to Yulia to decide whether to give Russia consular access to her.
Moscow has sent home an equal number of envoys — more than 150 — in an all-out diplomatic war unseen even at the height of the Cold War.
As part of the diplomatic row, Russia last week ordered 60 U.S. diplomats to leave the country by Thursday in retaliation for Washington’s expulsion of the same number of Russians.
Three buses believed to be carrying expelled American diplomats left the U.S. Embassy in Moscow early Thursday after loading their luggage on trucks. Some toted pet carriers.
Ahead of the U.N. meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the British accusations against Moscow as a mockery of international law. He sarcastically likened the British accusations to the queen from Alice in Wonderland urging “sentence first — verdict afterward.”
“The so-called Skripal case has been used as a fictitious, orchestrated pretext for the unfounded massive expulsions of Russian diplomats not only from the U.S. and Britain, but also from a number of other countries who simply had their arms twisted,” Lavrov said in Moscow.
The British government says it relied on a combination of scientific analysis and other intelligence to conclude that the nerve agent came from Russia. But the Foreign Office on Wednesday deleted a tweet from last month that said scientists at Britain’s defense research facility, the Porton Down laboratory, had identified the substance as “made in Russia.”
President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for cybersecurity, Alexander Krutskikh, mocked the contradictory statements, saying that “the latest developments around the Skripal case indicate the days of this British Cabinet are numbered.”
Lederer reported from the United Nations. Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov, Jim Heintz and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow also contributed.