Sergei Skripal, aged 66, was in intensive care on Monday night fighting for his life “after being exposed to a mysterious substance as he sat on a bench in the centre of Salisbury,” according to the report, posted on the telegraph.co.uk website.
A former agent with Russia’s FSB secret service, Colonel Skripal arrived in Britain in 2010 as part of a prisoner exchange, according to the British newspaper. Prior to that he was jailed in Moscow for spying for Britain, The Telegraph said.
A 33-year-old woman who accompanied Skripal in Salisbury was also in critical condition, The Telegraph added.
Both had collapsed and were unconscious when they were discovered on Sunday afternoon, the paper reported.
It referred to reports suggesting that Skripal had recently told police he was fearing for his life.
Russian assassins strike again?
Just over a decade ago, another former Russian agent, Alexander Litvinenko, was fatally poisoned by radioactive polonium in a London hotel, The Telegraph noted.
The paper quoted Litvinenko’s widow, Marina Litvinenko, as saying that the latest incident “looks similar to what happened to my husband, but we need more information. We need to know the substance. Was it radioactive?”
The incident “will inevitably raise concern that Russian assassins had struck again, 11 years after Litvinenko was murdered in 2006,” the paper said.
Former chess world champion Garry Kasparov, a high-profile critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has tweeted: “After the UK’s pathetic response to Litvinenko’s assassination with polonium in London, why wouldn’t Putin do it again?”
The Telegraph also cited Andrew Foxall, an expert on Russia and Eurasia, as saying that “if confirmed, this would be the second case of a former Russian ‘spy’ being exposed to an unknown substance" in Britain
“The first, of course, was Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned by polonium-210 in 2006,” Foxall, director of the Russia and Eurasia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society, added, as quoted by The Telegraph.
He was also cited by the British paper as saying: “While it is too soon to attribute responsibility, it would be foolhardy if the authorities were not to explore the Russia connection in relation to Mr Skripal’s illness.”