London - Vladimir Putin yesterday greeted the news that former Russian spy Sergei Skripal has been discharged from hospital by saying he would be dead if Moscow had been behind the attack.
Mr Skripal, who nearly died from the nerve agent Novichok, was under armed guard in an MI5 safehouse last night after two months of treatment.
Mr Putin was asked about the 66-year-old’s discharge from Salisbury District Hospital at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Russia.
The president said: ‘God grant him good health. If a military-grade poison had been used, the man would have died on the spot.’
His comment was consistent with Russia’s denial of any involvement in the poisoning in Salisbury, Wiltshire, on March 4. In the immediate aftermath, Mr Putin smirked when asked by reporters whether Russia was responsible. State television added to the unease after it warned that ‘traitors’ should not settle in Britain due to the risk of being killed.
Mr Skripal was jailed in Russia for 13 years in 2006 for passing on the identities of Russian spies in Europe to the UK intelligence services. He was part of a prisoner swap with the US in 2010.
He and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious in Salisbury and were admitted to hospital along with Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey after being exposed to the nerve agent. Both Yulia, who was also left gravely ill, and the officer were previously released.
It is unclear whether father and daughter have now been reunited, but they are both under round-the-clock guard in secret locations. A source said: ‘We don’t know whether he has even been in touch with his daughter Yulia since leaving hospital.’
The hospital confirmed yesterday that all three patients had now been discharged. Treatment of such patients involved ‘stabilising them until their bodies could produce more enzymes to replace those that had been poisoned’, it said in a statement.
Lorna Wilkinson, director of nursing, said: ‘We have been able to discharge Sergei Skripal. This is an important stage in his recovery, which will now take place away from the hospital.’
The UK’s Counter Terrorism Policing network is treating the poisoning of the Skripals as attempted murder. The attack led to a huge decontamination operation in Salisbury but only Mr Skripal’s home remains cordoned off.
Britain blames Russia for the attack, with Prime Minister Theresa May describing the incident as ‘brazen’ and ‘despicable’.
Moscow is still demanding to see the Skripals and accuses the UK of violating international law by not granting Russian officials access.
Its UK ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, said yesterday: ‘We want them to tell us personally what they want. If they don’t want our assistance, that’s fine, but we want to see them physically.’