U.K. counterterrorism unit takes over probe into Russian ex-spy's illness

“I am not now pointing fingers,” he said. “I say to governments around the world that no attempt to take innocent life on U.K. soil will go either unsanctioned or unpunished.”

Punitive measures?

He indicated that strong evidence of Russian government involvement could lead to new punitive measures against Moscow, which is under European Union and U.S. sanctions over its aggression in Ukraine and other actions.

“If the suspicions…prove to be well-founded, then it may very well be that we are forced to look again at our sanctions regime and other measures that we may seek to put in place,” Johnson said.

“It is clear that Russia, I’m afraid, is now in many respects a malign and disruptive force, and the U.K. is in the lead across the world in trying to counteract that activity,” he said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova criticized Johnson’s comments, calling them “wild.”

The unexplained incident in Salisbury swiftly drew comparisons with the death of Aleksandr Litvinenko, a former Russian security agent who fell ill and died in London in November 2006 after ingesting radioactive polonium-210.

A British inquiry concluded that the Russian government was behind Litvinenko’s death and that President Vladimir Putin “probably approved” the killing. Russia has denied any involvement.

Skripal is a former colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency who was convicted of passing state secrets to Britain in 2006 but was released from prison — and sent to the West — in a spy swap in 2010.

Putin’s spokesman said that Russia has “no information” on what could have led to the hospitalization of Skripal and his daughter, which he called a “tragic situation.”

Asked to respond to British media speculation that Russia had poisoned Skripal, Dmitry Peskov said: “It didn’t take them long.”

The Russian Embassy in London said the incident was being used to demonize Russia.

Parts of the Salisbury shopping center where the Skripals were found remained sealed off on March 6. One member of Britain’s emergency services that responded to the incident also took ill and remained in the hospital.

Police vehicles were also seen at what was listed as Skripal’s home, which is reported not far from the shopping center.

Scientists at Porton Down — the U.K.’s secret weapons research facility in Wiltshire — were studying the “unknown substance” believed to have caused the Skripals’ illness, officials said.

Local media reported that emergency services suspect the powerful synthetic opiate fentanyl may have been involved.

Skripal was arrested in Moscow in December 2004, and convicted by a Moscow military court in August 2006 of “high treason in the form of espionage.”

He was found guilty of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, or MI6, in return for $100,000.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) alleged he had begun working for MI6 while serving in the army in the 1990s.

This article is published courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty