16/03/2018 12:50 GMT | Updated 16/03/2018 12:52 GMT

Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko Says Britain Is Using Salisbury Poisoning 'To Divert Attention From Brexit'

Moscow also mocked Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson for telling Russia to 'shut up and go away'.

Russia’s ambassador to London has suggested Britain is using the Salisbury poisoning case to divert attention from Brexit in the latest of a series of barbs at Theresa May’s Government.

Alexander Yakovenko said the UK had put its weight behind an “anti-Russian campaign” by accusing Moscow of being responsible for the poisoning of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Speaking to the Russian state-funded RT network, Yakovenko said: “There is one more reason for diverting the attention of the British public, which is Brexit, because the situation in negotiations is not so easy...

“In order to divert attention from Brexit, they have to present something to the public that could move a little bit to the other side.

PA Archive/PA Images
Alexander Yakovenko said: ' 

“That’s a great possibility to launch this anti-Russian campaign. This is a scenario that was written in London but it’s a short-sighted scenario because, in the long run, Britain will have to explain what is behind all these things in Salisbury.”

He denounced Britain’s decision to expel 23 diplomats as “unacceptable and unjustified”.

Russia is expected to retaliate by expelling British diplomats imminently.

Its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov today mocked British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson for saying Russia should “shut up and go away”.

“I guess he wants to go down in history with some bombastic statements... Maybe he lacks education, I don’t know,” Lavrov said.

Yakovenko called Williamson’s comment “shocking”.

He said: “I have some reservations about the political culture [in Britain], in the way discussion is going on and the way the minister of defence is putting his views.

Mukhtar Kholdorbekov / Reuters
Sergei Lavrov mocked Gavin Williamson for telling Russia to 'shut up and go away'

“It is quite surprising for us, but this is the new reality in the new political culture in the United Kingdom.

“For the Russian ear, and the ear of any diplomat in the world, it is a little bit shocking.

“But when you live here in London for a while, you can get used to this.”

Yakovenko said it was “suspicious” that information about the case, including photographs of the victims, had not yet been released.

“All the investigation about the Skripals is classified,” he told RT. “We don’t have any information, we don’t have any access.

“Nobody saw even the pictures of these people in a hospital – whether they are alive or maybe they are in good health. Nobody talked to the doctors. There is absolutely no transparency in the case, and this worries us.”

Henry Nicholls / Reuters
A tent covers the Salisbury park bench where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found slumped after being poisoned

Yakovenko said that under the Vienna Convention, Russia should be granted consular access to its citizens, adding: “Basically, Britain doesn’t respect international law and the way they are behaving puts a lot of questions.”

“Britain in new circumstances is trying to find its new place in Western society, because they are leaving the EU,” he said.

“The key organisation is Nato and Britain is trying to find a place and they found it in the so-called anti-Russian campaign.”

Yakovenko said that Britain should “explain what they are doing in this secret chemical laboratory” at Porton Down, which he said was only a few miles from the site of the Salisbury attack.

He said Russia continued to press for samples of the nerve agent identified by British scientists to be handed over to Moscow.

“We want to clarify all the questions behind this provocation,” he said.

Yakovenko said the expulsion of 40% of his diplomatic staff would make the activities of the London embassy “quite difficult”, adding: “This really hurts Russia-Britain relations.”

He said Moscow continued to want “constructive co-operation” with the UK and would respond with “strategic patience”.

But he added: “We are right, we know what we are doing, and the time will come when the people of Britain will understand that they have maybe to have another government or other people who have a better policy towards Russia.”