News Brief

Russia Calls Foul After Briton Dies Of Novichok Poisoning

The death of a woman in Britain who is believed to have come into contact with the Novichok nerve agent is being portrayed by the Russian media as an attempt to puncture the image boost the country has received by hosting the FIFA World Cup.

Some pro-Kremlin channels are also drawing a link between news of the fatal poisoning and the upcoming meeting between the Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump in Helsinki, according to the BBC.

Russia has been basking in positive media coverage while hosting the soccer championship.

But three months since Russia was blamed for the attempted poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the British town of Salisbury with the same substance, Moscow is again being blamed for this latest incident, sparking a new round of critical headlines in the UK media.

And just as in March, the Russian media appears to be responding with a stream of alternative conspiracy theories.

Police have now launched a murder inquiry following the death of Dawn Sturgess over the weekend after she came into contact with the nerve agent in the town of Amesbury, while Charlie Rowley remains critically ill in hospital.

“Coincidentally or not,” a correspondent on state-run Rossiya-1 said, the poisoning in Amesbury took place “right before” a Nato summit and Donald Trump’s visit to Britain.

Some Russian channels have said the couple simply died of an overdose, as both were known to use illegal drugs.

Drug poisoning “is a more realistic and simple account of what has happened,” said a report on pro-Kremlin NTV. The channel interviewed a local man, with a voice over saying “just about everyone around here takes drugs — we think they simply got a contaminated batch”.

Another theory claims that the poisonings were the work of a rogue British chemical weapons specialists.

On Russia-1’s “60 Minutes” programme, a Russian chemical weapons expert explained that both the poisoning on the Skripals and the couple in Amesbury “could somehow be linked with some sort of narcotics.”

Russian media outlets have put forward several other theories — including that British Prime Minister Theresa May wants to divert attention from a renewed political crisis over the country’s Brexit negotiations and controversy over President Trump’s forthcoming visit to the U.K.

Some reports also suggested that Britain has concocted the case as a way of undermining next week’s summit between Trump and Putin.

But meanwhile, back in Russia, several companies are doing a good trade selling “Novichok” merchandise, since the Skripal case hit the headlines in March.

One Moscow-based company is selling “Novichok”-embossed T-shirts, according to one reporter, while you can now also buy Novichok-branded coffee, beer, vodka, vegetable oil. And in the city of Volgograd, you can reportedly even find a Novichok cocktail.