NEWS
15/03/2018 10:47 GMT | Updated 15/03/2018 17:46 GMT

Global Leaders Condemn Russia Over 'First Offensive Use' Of Nerve Agent In Europe Since WW2

Comes as Russia says it will expel British diplomats in tit-for-tat response to UK action against Moscow.

  • US, France, Germany and the US issue joint condemnation
  • Theresa May visits Salisbury and meets with first responders
  • US slaps sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five groups
  • Donald Trump says it ‘looks like the Russians were behind it’
  • Russia claimed it will soon expel British diplomats in retaliation
  • French President to snub Russian stand at the Paris book fair  

Britain’s allies dramatically stepped up pressure against Russia today, issuing a joint statement condemning the “first offensive use” of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.

The leaders of France, Germany and the United States joined the UK in claiming the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, was an “assault on UK sovereignty” and a “clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law”.

The statement added that the countries supported the UK’s position that Russia was responsible for the attack.

“We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility”.

Separately, HuffPost France reported that French President Emmanuel Macron would snub the official Russian stand at the Paris book fair later on Thursday to show solidarity with Britain.

Speaking during a visit to Salisbury, May: “We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen and despicable act that has taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city.” 

May met members of the emergency services and military at Salisbury’s Guildhall, including PC Way and PC Collins, two Wiltshire Police officers who were first to respond to the emergency call.

PC Collins told the Prime Minister they had believed the incident was “a routine call”.

On Thursday the US also slapped sanctions on 19 Russian individuals and five groups, including Moscow’s intelligence services, for meddling in the 2016 US election and cyber attacks, the Treasury Department said.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said there would be additional sanctions against Russian government officials and oligarchs “for their destabilising activities.” Mnuchin did not give a time frame for the sanctions.

 

PA Wire/PA Images
 Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to local officials and members of the emergency services as she visits Salisbury

Speaking to reporters as the sanctions were announced, US President Donald Trump of Salisbury that it “looks like” Russia was behind the nerve agent attack. “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it, something that should never ever happen.

“We are taking it very seriously as, I think, are many others.”

In further diplomatic manoeuvring, Russia claimed it will soon expel British diplomats in retaliation to the UK’s decision to kick out 23 Russian envoys over the chemical attack.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the official news agency RIA as saying the accusations by Theresa May were unacceptable, and that British diplomats would also be expelled.

The Kremlin had already made it clear it was readying its response to the biggest expulsion of its embassy staff since the Cold War, announced by May on Wednesday.

“These are all signs of a provocation against our country. The position of the British side seems absolutely irresponsible to us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“We insist that Russia has no connection to what happened in Great Britain,” Peskov told a conference call.

Peskov added that Putin will personally choose the retaliatory measures Moscow takes against the UK: “A final decision [on retaliatory measures] will, of course, be made by the Russian president. There is no doubt that he will choose the variant that best of all corresponds to the interests of the Russian Federation.”

PA Wire/PA Images
Prime Minister Theresa May in Salisbury as she views the area of the suspected nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia

 

He said that Russia is “perplexed and does not comprehend the British leadership’s stance” and insisted the “accusations are unsubstantiated”.

London had given Moscow until midnight on Wednesday to explain whether it was behind the attack or had lost control of the nerve agent used.

When it failed to respond, Theresa May announced that the UK was suspending high-level contacts with Russia and that dignitaries, including members of the royal family, will not attend this summer’s World Cup.

A senior Cabinet source told HuffPost UK that Vladimir Putin would likely sling out UK diplomats from Russia on Friday, to give himself a popularity boost ahead of the country’s presidential election on Sunday.

The source confirmed the UK had further measures available to it if Russia wanted to get into a diplomatic war: “It’s tit for tat now – it will escalate so we had to have other options open to us.”

On Thursday morning Boris Johnson said it was “overwhelmingly obvious” that Russia was culpable for the attack. He told the BBC: “What we have done in expelling 23 diplomats, probably undeclared agents, is far beyond what Vladimir Putin had bargained for.

“We have basically eviscerated his intelligence capabilities in this country for decades to come.”

Full UK response to Salisbury attack:

  • 23 Russian diplomats expelled.
  • Creating new power to detain those suspected of Hostile State Activity at the UK border. 
  • Increase checks on private flights, customs and freight.
  • Freeze Russian State assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents.
  • Suspend all planned high level bi-lateral contacts between the UK and Russia, including revoking the invitation to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to visit to the UK.
  • No attendance by Ministers - or indeed Members of the Royal Family - at this Summer’s World Cup in Russia. 
  • A new £48m chemical defence centre based at Porton Down to face the “increasing” threat from Russia and North Korea. 
  • Special UK troops to receive anthrax vaccine. 

“There is something in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’ve heard from the Russians that to me betokens their fundamental guilt,” Johnson said. “They want to simultaneously deny it and yet at the same time to glory in it.”

The Russian response came after the diplomatic drama shifted to the UN Security Council.

A showdown on Wednesday evening saw Britain call on the international chemical weapons watchdog to verify its findings that Moscow is behind the Salisbury incident.

The UK’s deputy UN ambassador, Jonathan Allen, said that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had been asked to examine the British analysis of the attack.

In heated exchanges at the Security Council gathering, Russia strongly denied it was involved in the Salisbury incident, and the US offered Britain its full support.

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said: “The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent. Dozens of civilians and first responders were also exposed.

“If we don’t take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used. This is a defining moment.”

 

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