Definitely the biggest sensation in the Skripal story this week was the confirmation that both Yulia and her father are no longer in critical condition and making good progress in their recovery.
News of their improving condition must be especially surprising to the UK's chemical weapons experts, and to Prime Minister May and Foreign Secretary Johnson, who claimed following the attack that the Skripals were struck by a powerful Russian military-grade nerve agent which leaves little chance of survival.
British and US media described the nerve agent as "the most deadly ever made." A New York Times piece from March 13 shocked readers with the headline "The Nerve Agent Too Deadly to Use, Until Someone Did," accompanied by an image of a scowling Foreign Minister Lavrov against the backdrop of a Russian flag.
But the improvement to the Skripals' condition has forced these same media to backtrack, and to ask the uncomfortable question of how exactly the ex-spy and his daughter could possible survive such a deadly attack. The Washington Post was the most blunt, asking "why aren't the Skripals dead?" Medical and toxicology experts told the newspaper and other media that the pair's "miraculous" recovery came down to the fantastic medical care they received at Salisbury Hospital.
Russian officials unanimously welcomed the news of the Skripals' improving condition, but joined in asking just how all this was possible if, as London claims, this was all a "'military-grade state-sponsored' assassination attempt" by Russia.
Does the @Telegraph expert suggest that the “military-grade state-sponsored” assassination attempt was pathetically inept? pic.twitter.com/gQRC1wzPqX— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) 7 апреля 2018 г.
Three Real Victims: The Skripals' Pets
Another scandalous moment in the Skripal case came late in the week, and involved the family's pets – a cat named Nash van Drake and two guinea pigs. Officials told UK media that the cat was taken to the military lab at Porton Down, put down and cremated. As for the guinea pigs, they were left in Sergei Skripal's home long enough to starve to death.
News of the pets' death prompted animal rights activists to charge British police with animal cruelty.
The #NovichokLie CONTINUES— Paul Rawnsley (@Paparaw) 7 апреля 2018 г.
The #Skripals were supposedly poisoned by the DEADLY #NerveAgent on 4th March but their house was left UNSEARCHED long enough for #SergeiSkripal's pets to DIE OF STARVATION. It took the #Police 2 WEEKS to WIPE HIS FRONT DOOR. https://t.co/FgV15Bowpn
Wiltshire Police starve to death Sergei Skripal's pet cat and two guinea pigs.— Ian56 (@Ian56789) 6 апреля 2018 г.
Whoever made the decision to lock them in the house without food should be charged with Animal Crueltyhttps://t.co/EfSfnhemX6 pic.twitter.com/pks0DOip6J
So just to recap, The Russians couldn’t kill Skripal but the British finished off his pets— Ginge (@DeanoB24) 6 апреля 2018 г.
Back in Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested it was highly suspicious that the Skripal's cat, who "could have become an important piece of evidence in the chemical poisoning case," were not only starved to death and put down, but cremated as well. The Russian Embassy in the UK echoed this sentiment.
Are they seriously saying that nobody had a look at the pets at alleged crime scene? Were the animals’ remains tested for toxic substances? Or just disposed of as an inconvenient piece of evidence? pic.twitter.com/pcZoeAsyqy— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) 6 апреля 2018 г.
London's case against Russia suffered another blow this week, after an admission by Porton Down defense lab chief Gary Aitkenhead that experts could not actually trace its origin. The scientist's remarks prompted the Foreign office to delete a tweet which said point-blank that the nerve agent came from Russia, and led British opposition lawmakers to attack Boris Johnson, who adamantly claimed that Porton Down had given him rock-solid evidence of Russian involvement.
Why would @foreignoffice delete this tweet from 22 March? pic.twitter.com/Nvu1BfJw9J— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) 4 апреля 2018 г.
FCO tweet deleted. Porton Down do not say 'produced in Russia'. Assume Foreign Secretary wishes his interview with same claims could also be deleted. https://t.co/lDioScLzz8— Diane Abbott (@HackneyAbbott) 4 апреля 2018 г.
Yasenevo, Saratov, The Kremlin Basement?
Even after Porton Down lab admitted that it could not trace the chemical agent's origin, some media continued to claim they knew the location of the "covert Russian lab" used to create it. The Sun cited unnamed 'security sources' who said that the poison came from an SRV foreign intelligence service lab in the Moscow district of Yasenevo. The Times, meanwhile, insisted that it was made in a lab in the town of Shikhany, Saratov, about 730 km southeast of Moscow.
Altogether, the details revealed this week about the Skripal case have not only severely undermined London's claims about Russian involvement, but led the public in the UK and many Western countries to ask just what exactly happened in Salisbury on March 4.