As the world blames it for a poison attack on British soil, the Russian government has launched what critics call a campaign of misdirection.
- Former Russian spy, daughter were poisoned with nerve agent in March
- One cat and two guinea pigs belonging to the ex-spy were found dead
- Russia claims spy's pets might hold clues to real culprit behind attack
If so, Russian misdirection is extremely weird.
The country called a special meeting at the United Nations on Thursday, during which a Russian official blamed terrorists - perhaps - or any government but its own for poisoning a former Russian spy last month, with a Soviet-developed nerve agent that was later found on the front door of victim Sergei Skripal's home in England.
As the Russian U.N. ambassador suggested that the poisoning was a false flag operation to undermine his country, he asked darkly what had become of the victim's pet cats and guinea pigs. He tweeted, "It turns out Sergey Skripal has two cats and two guinea pigs. Were they also poisoned? Where are they and how are they treated? Important questions for the investigation."
He wasn't joking. The same day, a spokesman for Russia's Embassy in Britain suggested that Skripal's pets might hold clues to the real culprit behind the attack. While Skripal and his daughter are recovering in a hospital, the weeks-long absence of the animals from public sight has apparently troubled Russia.
"There were two cats and two guinea pigs living at Mr. Skripal's place," a press officer for Russia's Embassy in Britain said Thursday. "We don't have any information on their whereabouts or condition, and the otherwise well-informed British media are silent in that regard."
The press officer added that Russia had officially asked the British Foreign Ministry about the animals' fate, and whether they had also been treated for poison.
The next day, the government of Britain obliged Russia's request. One cat and two guinea pigs belonging to the ex-spy were dead, the British Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told CNN.
It wasn't necessarily poison that killed them. Officials sealed and quarantined the house after Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious elsewhere in the town of Salisbury on March 4, CNN reported.
It's unclear how long the animals were trapped inside, but "when a vet was able to access the property, two guinea pigs had sadly died" from lack of water, the department said in a statement. "A cat was also found in a distressed state and a decision was taken by a veterinary surgeon to euthanize the animal to alleviate its suffering."
Did this explanation satisfy Russia? Far from it. No sooner had news of the animals' demise gone to press than embassy officials suggested a coverup.
The Russian Embassy in Britain tweeted, "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?"
"It turns out Skripal's pets - two guinea pigs and a cat - are no longer alive," Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced in a dire Facebook post on Friday.
Zakharova acknowledged that some might think it a joke to raise this. "In reality, though, they were really important pieces of evidence," she wrote.
How did British authorities not notice the guinea pigs before sealing the house, she asked. Why was the cat euthanized, and all the animals apparently cremated, when they might contain evidence of the nerve agent's origin?
In a postscript, the spokeswoman claimed that British defense researchers had spent decades testing nerve agents on 3,400 guinea pigs. (They were actually humans.)
And she accused the British media of covering all of this up.
"According to our information, BBC knew that the pets had been left in the house but for some reason kept quiet about it," she wrote. "We would like to hear explanations."
So far, the British government had not responded to Russia's latest accusations - that it might have poisoned its own people, framed Moscow for the crime, and destroyed a cat and two guinea pigs to hide the evidence.
Meanwhile, CNN reports, Britain has "offered no information about a possible second cat."
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)