Russia says attempts to blame it for the mysterious illness that struck down a Russian former double agent in Britain looks like a campaign to damage relations between London and Moscow.
Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia's GRU military intelligence service, and his daughter, Yulia, were found slumped unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in southern England on Sunday afternoon. They remain critically ill in hospital.
The story of the poisoning did not make it onto the front pages of most Russian newspapers. In interviews, speaking on condition of anonymity, Russian intelligence officers said reports of Moscow's involvement were strange. They added an attack on somone not directly related to spying is unusual.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Skripal's illness was being cynically used to escalate an anti-Russian campaign in Britain.
"What has happened to Skripal was immediately used to whip up an anti-Russian campaign in the Western media," said Maria Zakharova. "Even before the situation is clarified, wild guesses started spreading. What is more, there is clearly a concerted action behind this whole campaign."
Exiled Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky now living in Switzerland, says Russia has only itself to blame for what is happening.
It's a sad situation because everyone presumes the Kremlin and Russia are guilty," he explained. "There's a saying that first you work to estabilsh your reputation and then your reputation works for you. In this case, it's due to the bad reputaton the Kremlin has earned in recent years."