- Moscow refuses to yield to UK deadline without seeing samples
- Russian Embassy sends series of tweets outlining its position
- Trump tells May he stands “with the UK all the way” on Salisbury
- Angela Merkel tells PM she stood in “full solidarity” with the UK
- Russia set midnight deadline to explain presence of nerve agent
The Russian Embassy in the UK has said Moscow “will not respond to London’s ultimatum” until it is given access to samples of the nerve agent used in the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
In a series of tweets, the London-based Embassy warned that “any threat to take ‘punitive’ measures against Russia will meet with a response. The British side should be aware of that”.
It added: “Today the Embassy sent a note to Foreign Office reiterating that Russia is not involved in the Salisbury incident and outlining the above mentioned demands for joint investigation.”
The intervention came just moments before Downing Street revealed details of a call between Theresa May and Donald Trump in which the US President said he was “with the UK all the way” over the poisoning.
A spokesman for No10 said: “The Prime Minister spoke to President Trump earlier this afternoon to update him on the ongoing investigation into the Salisbury incident.
“The Prime Minister set out the conclusion reached by the UK Government that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
“President Trump said the US was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used.”
Support for the UK also came from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who told the May she stood in “full solidarity” with the UK.
“Chancellor Merkel condemned the attack and said she stood in full solidarity with the UK. They agreed that the international community should coordinate closely as the investigation developed and in the wake of Russia’s response,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded access to samples of the nerve agent, telling reporters on Tuesday morning that Russia was “not to blame” for the attempted murder of the pair.
It comes as police warned Salisbury residents the complex investigation could take “many weeks” and they could see more cordons go up across the city as it continued.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has summoned the British ambassador in Moscow.
Theresa May has given Moscow until midnight to come up with with a “credible” explanation as to what happened.
The prime minister has said if this is not forthcoming, the British government would conclude the attack was an unlawful “use of force” against the UK by Russia.
WHAT HAPPENED IN SALISBURY:
March 3: Yulia Skripal arrives at Heathrow on a flight from Russia
March 4: she and her father arrived in Salisbury at the Sainsbury’s car park at around 1.40pm, which has since been cordoned off.
2.20pm to 3.35pm: The pair dined at the Zizzi’s restaurant, having been to The Mill pub.
4.15pm: A member of the public alerted police to the pair, who were found in a “extremely serious” condition on a park bench. The bench, the pub and the Zizzi’s are all cordoned off.
Since then: Police confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that, of 38 people had been treated for possible exposure to the substance, 34 have been discharged. Sergei Skripal, Yulia Skripal and Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, an early responder at the scene, remain in hospital. One other person is being monitored.
March 13: Speaking outside Scotland Yard, Metropolitan Police counter-terror chief Neil Basu said that the investigators’ “prime focus” is how the poison was administered but said it was too early to say where this was done.
He said the investigation could take “many weeks” but added police had identified the nerve agent involved.
Police are also focusing on Skripal’s red BMW, and appealing for any witnesses who had seen the Russian pair in the car between 1pm and 1.45pm in Salisbury to come forward.
Ahmet Uzumcu, the Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said this morning those responsible for the use of the Novichok nerve agent “must be held accountable for their actions”.
Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who collapsed last Sunday, are still fighting for their lives after being exposed to a toxic substance.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey - who fell seriously ill after tending to Skripal and Yulia - also remains in hospital.
Boris Johnson has told the Russian ambassador that Moscow must disclose details of its Novichok nerve gas programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Speaking this morning, the foreign secretary said the UK’s response to the attack will be “commensurate but robust”.
Ramping up the pressure on Moscow, Johnson said the use of the nerve agent “would represent the first use of nerve agents on the continent of Europe since the Second World War.”
Johnson said he has been “very impressed by the strength of the support” the UK has received from its allies.
“One thing that really came through from the American response was a sense that this is part of a pattern of behaviour by Vladimir Putin and his regime,” he said.
“And you’re seeing this reckless support for the use of chemical weapons all the way from Syria to the streets of Wiltshire in our country.
Johnson added: “It’s up to them. They’ve got until midnight tonight to clear up the matter.”
May is expected to update the Commons with her next steps during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.
The White House intervened last night, with President Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders describing the incident as “an outrage” and vowing the United States would “stand by our closet ally”.
The US later upped the rhetoric as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the poisoning “clearly came from Russia” and vowed it “will trigger a response” as other UK allies swung behind the prime minister.
The use of the phrase was seen as a prelude for seeking a United Nations resolution condemning the act, and possibly cover in international law for any tough response.
Among the options open to the UK and urged by some in Government are extra deployments of troops in Nato states bordering Russia, the expulsion of the Russian ambassador in London and fresh curbs on Russian finance in the UK.
What Is Novichok?
Novichok was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 80s and is said to be ten times stronger than other agents.
May confirmed in the Commons it is banned under international conventions.
Experts suggest Novichok, which means “newcomer” in Russian, is the deadliest nerve agent ever produced – designed to mask itself from NATO detection equipment and chemical protective gear and developed in secret to dodge international treaties.
Over the weekend, reports suggested police had already ruled out both VX, developed by Britain in the 1950s, and Sarin, developed by Germany in the 1930s.
It left Novichok, said to be up to ten times stronger than VX, the most likely agent to have been deployed.
Novichok became notorious in the 1990s when a Soviet scientist called Vil Mirzayanov was put on trial for revealing its existence.
In an interview with the New York Times, Mirzayanov spoke of how it was far more potent than anything in the US - and that it was so secret it didn’t become known for as much as a decade after it was actually available.