Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday branded former double agent Sergei Skripal “a traitor” and a “scumbag”, saying Moscow knew he had cooperated with foreign intelligence after his release in a spy swap.
“He is just a scumbag,” a visibly angry Putin told an energy forum in Moscow, referring to the ex-spy who Britain says was poisoned with a Soviet-designed nerve agent by members of Russia’s military intelligence in March.
“He is just a spy, a traitor to the homeland,” Putin said in his toughest remarks about Skripal to date.
“He was caught, he was punished, he spent five years in prison, we let him go, he left and continued cooperating with, providing consultations to (foreign) security services,” Putin said.
Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence colonel, was found guilty of passing state secrets to Britain and sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006. He was pardoned and released as part of a spy swap with the West in 2010.
However, Putin once again laughed off British charges that two members of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service had sought to poison Skripal and his daughter Yulia with Novichok in the English city of Salisbury in March.
The Skripals survived but a British couple, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley came into contact with the same nerve agent near Salisbury months later and Sturgess died.
Putin dismissed the crisis in relations with Britain that led to the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats from the West since the Cold War as a “row between security services”.
“As we know, spying, like prostitution, is one of the world’s most important professions,” Putin said, drawing applause from the audience.
He again denied charges Russia was behind the poisoning, saying: “No one had to poison anyone there (in Britain).”
“Sometimes I look at what is happening around this case and am simply amazed.”
Last month, Putin called for the two men suspected by Britain of seeking to assassinate Skripal to appear on television, and he claimed that they were civilians.
In an eyebrow-raising interview with the Kremlin-funded RT channel, the two, who gave their names as Ruslan Boshirov and Alexander Petrov, said they went to Salisbury as tourists, prompting ridicule in Russia and abroad.
Bellingcat, the British-based investigative group, said last week that “Boshirov” is in fact Anatoly Chepiga, a GRU colonel decorated with Russia’s top award, the Hero of Russia.
Moscow dismissed the report, saying “there is no proof”, and the Kremlin said it would no longer discuss the subject with journalists.