Until three weeks ago, Salisbury was a quiet provincial city in Wiltshire, now it is at the epicentre of an international diplomatic crisis that could pave the way for a new cold war between Russia and the West.
In this special Tonight report, Britain V Russia: A New Cold War? Adam Shaw investigates how bad things could get - and what Britain’s options are in the face of Russian aggression.
Sunday 4th March, Salisbury
Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, went for lunch in town with his daughter Yulia.
At 1:40pm he parked in the upper level of Sainsbury’s car park.
After visiting The Mill pub for a drink they went to Zizzi’s restaurant where they stayed until 3:35pm
At 4:15pm the emergency services received a report to say that there were two people, slumped on a park bench, that looked very ill.
Police officers arrived to find Sergei and Yulia in a serious condition.
Jamie Paine walked past the pair, just before the emergency services arrived:
“His arms [Sergei’s] were just up - vertical - you can see he was just trying to speak but nothing was coming out. At first his hands were shaking and then he went stiff and just started frothing, spit and saliva coming out of his mouth.”
Soon, there were officers in protective suits examining the area. Just over a week later, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that it was a deadly, weapons-grade nerve agent called Novichok that poisoned Sergei and Yulia.
Where does Novichok come from?
Hamish De Bretton-Gordon OBE, Former Commanding Officer for the British Army explains:
“I think the evidence is overwhelmingly compelling that it’s the Russians, we know that Novichoks were only ever made by Russia. They were developed, researched and made in a place called Shikhany which is a closed town in the middle of central Russia, and I have it from very good sources, that nothing really moved out of there... The only possible way out Putin has, is if the two Novichoks are different. But I would have thought that was a less than a billion to one chance.”
Russia says that it had nothing to do with the attack.
Other suspicious deaths allegedly at the hands of the Kremlin
In 2006, ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with radioactive Polonium 210, in a cup of tea, at a hotel in Mayfair.
10 years later, a public inquiry concluded that the Russian State was behind the murder and that the crime was probably approved by Vladimir Putin.
According to investigative journalist Heidi Blake, the Russian state could potentially be behind many more deaths.
“There is a failure to investigate these these murders in all fourteen cases that we have looked at, where these suspicious deaths are clearly linked to Russia. We can’t say for sure that these are assassinations, because there hasn’t been a proper investigation, but what is very odd is there is very clear evidence in all these cases pointing to Russia…”
On Tuesday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd confirmed that the police and MI5 will revisit the cluster of suspicious deaths to see if they may relate to Skripal and Litvinenko.
How should Britain react?
Last week, the Prime Minister announced the government were going to expel 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation, but what else should Britain do to punish Russia?
In an exclusive Tonight poll of 3,000 people, we asked how they feel about England taking part in this year’s Football World Cup tournament. Only 39% said we should, with the rest disagreeing or not sure.
Afshin Rattansi, a journalist for Russia Today, has other ideas about how Russia might react.
“If Theresa May continues to threaten Russia in the way she has, if the Foreign Secretary continues in this way, I think the end could be...would be not a good one. We must remember that when we try and protect our national security in this way by threatening great powers, Russia has alliances with China - with the emerging powers of this century. It’s a very dangerous path.”
The recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury may seem like the stuff of fiction, but it may well be the “collateral damage” to the over 30 people who needed hospital treatment, including emergency services, that may prove a defining moment in our relations with the Russian State.
Britain vs Russia: A New Cold War? Will air on ITV at 7:30pm on Thursday 22nd March