Novichok Survivor Meets With Russian Ambassador in London

LONDON — A British man whose girlfriend died after they were both poisoned by a nerve agent thought to have been discarded by Russian intelligence officers in England went looking for answers at the Russian Embassy in London this weekend, asking, “Why did your country kill my girlfriend?”

The startling meeting — which at times seemed more like a friendly tour of the embassy in South Kensington, an affluent area in West London, than an inquisition of a representative of the government potentially responsible for the death of his girlfriend, Dawn Sturgess, in July — left more questions than answers.

The meeting between the man, Charlie Rowley, and Russia’s ambassador to Britain, Alexander V. Yakovenko, on Saturday was partly arranged by The Sunday Mirror, a British tabloid.

Mr. Rowley met with Russia’s envoy nine months after he and Ms. Sturgess were poisoned. The nerve agent was originally used to target a former Russian spy, Sergei V. Skripal in March 2018, but Mr. Skripal’s daughter and a police officer were also sickened. The poisoning was at the center of a diplomatic split between Britain and Russia, leading both countries to tit-for-tat expulsions of each others’ diplomats.

Mr. Rowley also lost some of his eyesight, suffered strokes and contracted meningitis after the attack.

But on Sunday, the BBC showed images of Mr. Rowley shaking the hands of the smiling ambassador as Mr. Rowley’s brother Matthew sat in a wheelchair in the room. The envoy also is seen showing the Britons around the embassy.

“I went along to ask them ‘Why did your country kill my girlfriend?,’ ” Mr. Rowley said in an interview with The Sunday Mirror. “But I didn’t really get any answers,” Mr. Rowley added. “I just got Russian propaganda.”

Mr. Yakovenko denied that Russia had been behind the poisonings. He then asked his visitors to pass his “best regards to the parents” of Ms. Sturgess.

“I know how it was hard for them,” he said, according to video footage published by The Sunday Mirror, and in an apparent appeal for cooperation, added, “But we should be together, definitely.”

Neither The Sunday Mirror nor the Russian Embassy responded to requests for comment on Sunday. Mr. Rowley could not immediately be reached.

Russia has always denied any role in poisoning Mr. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March 2018 in Salisbury, England, with a military-grade nerve agent, Novichok. But the British authorities believed it had been the work of at least two Russian intelligence officers, Anatoly V. Chepiga and Aleksandr Y. Mishkin, who were caught on CCTV entering the country and traveling to Salisbury.

In an interview with the state-run Russian network RT, both claimed they were sports nutritionists who had visited Salisbury because they had heard of its remarkable cathedral.

But British authorities believed the Russians had carelessly discarded the remaining poison, which was found by Mr. Rowley while he was rummaging through a dumpster.

Ms. Sturgess, 44, fell ill in Amesbury, a town in southern England, after Mr. Rowley, 45, gave her a small glass bottle he had found in a box in the trash. He thought the oily substance inside the bottle was perfume. She sprayed it on her wrist, and rubbed her hands together, he later told the authorities.

A week later she was dead, and he was in a coma.

It was only when he regained consciousness in a hospital that the police told him that the substance was Novichok, he said in an interview with the British television channel ITV in July.

Dawn Sturgess, who died after being poisoned by the nerve agent.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

The authorities said at the time that Mr. Rowley and Ms. Sturgess had most likely been exposed to the poison accidentally.

In March, Ewan Hope, the son of Ms. Sturgess, asked President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to allow British investigators to question the men presumed responsible, telling Mr. Putin, “I am appealing to you as a human being.”

“Allow our officers to question these men about my mother’s murder,” he urged Mr. Putin on the anniversary of the nerve agent attack on Mr. Skripal, according to excerpts from a letter published in The Mirror.

In denying its role in the poisonings, Russia has also satirized the episode. In December, RT sent around chocolate replicas of Salisbury Cathedral as holiday gifts.

But on Saturday, the Russian ambassador handed Mr. Rowley a 51-page dossier titled “Salisbury: Unanswered Questions,” in which Britain is accused of “inaccuracies and inconsistencies,” and of “failing to provide information,” according to The Sunday Mirror.

Mr. Yakovenko later told reporters that the meeting had been “quite a friendly event.” He added of Mr. Rowley: “It was an ordinary conversation between friends. He just wanted to know the truth.”

The envoy also told Mr. Rowley that the British police had never asked to interview the two suspects. But Mr. Rowley did not appear to be convinced by much of what he heard.

“He hasn’t changed my view that Russia are responsible,” he said.

Mr. Rowley told The Mirror, “He said Russia only have small amounts of Novichok because they use it as an antidote and don’t produce it any more.”

“He said the only countries that produce it now are the Czech Republic and America,” he added.

“I said, ‘Well, my girlfriend did die; it’s only because I washed it off that I’m still here,’ ” Mr. Rowley said. “He didn’t know what to say to that.”