politics

Woman in Russian Spy Mystery Moves to Center of Diplomatic Feud

Updated on
  • As Yulia Skripal recuperates, Moscow demands to have access
  • Russia TV airs odd audio purported to be a call to her cousin

Police officers in protective suits and masks work near the scene where Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were discovered after being attacked with a nerve-agent in Salisbury, England on March 16, 2018.

Photographer: Jack Taylor/Getty Images Europe

Yulia Skripal is emerging as the focus of attention in the tug of war being fought over multiple media by the U.K. and Russia to try to sway global opinion about a chemical attack on British soil.

The 33-year-old Russian was found a month ago collapsed on a bench in the English city of Salisbury alongside her father -- double agent Sergei Skripal -- after being exposed to a nerve agent the U.K. blames on the Kremlin.

As theories swirled around the attack on the former spy, who remains critically ill, his daughter was seen as a secondary figure in the drama until now.

In a bizarre development on Thursday, state-run Russia 1 TV’s 60 Minutes program was interrupted with a recording of a phone conversation that presenters said took place the previous evening and had been provided by her cousin, Viktoria Skripal, even as they repeatedly told viewers they couldn’t verify that the other person on the call was Yulia.

On the audio, Viktoria appears surprised to hear from her relative, though the program offered no explanation of how she came to be recording the call.

Sergei is ‘Resting’

On the recording, ‘Yulia’ tells Viktoria that “everyone is recovering” and that Sergei Skripal is “resting, having a sleep.” She says she’ll shortly be discharged from hospital. When Viktoria asks whether she can visit her if she’s able to get a visa to go to the U.K., ‘Yulia’ refuses and tells her “nobody will give you the visa.”

Hours later, as the Russian envoy to London held a marathon televised news conference and said he was happy to hear Yulia was recovering, the Metropolitan Police issued a statement on behalf of the woman herself.

It read as follows: “I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily. I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received.”

She indicated she wanted to be left alone: “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.”

Doctors treating Yulia at Salisbury District Hospital announced on March 29 that she had responded well to treatment and was “improving rapidly,” while the BBC reported on the same day that she was “conscious and talking,” citing sources it didn’t identify.

Russia said it wants consular access to Yulia. The U.K. Foreign Office said they’d relayed Moscow’s message, adding “Ms Skripal is now able to choose if and when to take up this offer, but to date she has not done so.”

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