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Russia denies involvement in spy poisoning; troops sent to investigate

By Sara Shayanian
Russia denies involvement in spy poisoning; troops sent to investigate
Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench in a British shopping mall on March 4. File photo by Yury Senatorov/EPA-EFE

March 9 (UPI) -- Russia's top diplomat said Friday Moscow was not responsible for the poisoning of a former double agent in Britain earlier this week.

Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old former colonel in Russia's military intelligence service, and his 33-year-old daughter were found slumped on a bench in a British shopping district Sunday. The pair are still in "very serious" condition.

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British officials have said they suspect Moscow might have been behind the attack.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, though, rejected the notion that the Russian government had anything to do with their sudden illness

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"We haven't heard a single fact, we only watch reportages on TV where our colleagues say with pathos with serious faces that if this was done by Russia, then the response will be such that Russia will remember it forever," Lavrov said.

"This is dishonest, this is pure propaganda, pure fanning of hysterics and hysteria."

Lavrov also said Russia is willing to help with the investigation into the nerve agent attack, adding that Moscow hadn't yet been approached by British investigators.

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"If someone wants us to engage in an investigation, be that on the poisoning of the U.K. subject or the rumors about alleged interference in the electoral campaign of the U.S., if you really need our assistance, then we will be willing to contemplate this possibility if we have the necessary data and facts," Lavrov said.

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"But in order to have a serious conversation ... you have to use the official channels."

Investigators are treating the attack as a "major incident involving attempted murder."

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About 180 British military personnel were deployed on Friday to help investigate the incident and to remove potentially contaminated evidence in Salisbury.

The military personnel will include Royal Marines who are specialized in chemical warfare and decontamination.

Moscow officials have called the suggestions of Russian involvement "fake news stories" aimed at complicating relations between the Kremlin and Britain.

Skripal worked as a double agent for British intelligence and was exchanged for Russian spies in a 2010 "spy swap."

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