Britain has accused the Russian government of carrying out a chemical attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil, plunging UK-Russia relations into crisis.
Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, have been in hospital in a critical condition since March 4 when they were found slumped unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury.
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday said that the incident was a state-sponsored attempted murder after evidence showed that the ex-spy and his daughter had been attacked using a “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia,” before urging Moscow to explain what had happened or face sanctions.
Mr Bret told France’s Europe 1 radio on Wednesday: “Was it a slip up? A manipulation? What is certain is that the Skripal affair is the symptom of the slow but sure degradation of the relations between the United Kingdom and Russia.
“Novichok – the nerve agent used against Mr Skripal – was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s and can only be produced by highly specialised scientists and requires the kind of safety precautions normally only found in government laboratories.”
He added the use of the nerve agent reinforces suspicions that the Kremlin had orchestrated the attack.
The Russia expert added that while it was still too soon to accuse Vladimir Putin’s government of poisoning the former double agent, the succession of incidents involving Russian citizens living in exile in the UK was “troubling”.
He said: “This is not the first time that a Russian exile dies in England. There are precedents, such as the death of [ex-spy Alexander] Litvinenko in 2007 and the death of [Russian oligarch] Boris Berezovsky in 2013.”
Mr Bret added that the British government was right to threaten sanctions against Russia over the attempted murder.
He said: “Mrs May must come across as intransigent if she is to protect Britain’s sovereignty.”
He added the most “symbolic” sanction would be to boycott the upcoming World Cup in Russia, a suggestion which has already been floated by several of the UK’s allies.
He said: “We are entering a zone of uncertainty.”
The nerve attack sparked an outpouring of condemnation from European leaders, who pledged to “support” Britain if asked to do so.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday condemned the “unacceptable” attack, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she was taking the British government’s views on Russian involvement extremely seriously.