LONDON (Reuters) – Britain gave President Vladimir Putin till midnight on Tuesday to elucidate how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to strike down a former Russian double agent who handed secrets and techniques to British intelligence.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital in a vital situation since March four after they have been found unconscious on a bench outdoors a purchasing centre within the southern English cathedral metropolis of Salisbury.
Prime Minister Theresa May mentioned it was“highly likely” that Russia was guilty after Britain recognized the substance as a part of the highly-lethal Novichok group of nerve brokers developed by the Soviet navy through the 1970s and 1980s.
“Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia,” May mentioned.
“Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country,” May mentioned.“Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
Russia, which holds a presidential election on March 18, has denied any position within the poisoning and says Britain is whipping up anti-Russian hysteria.
Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, summoned to the Foreign Office, was given till the top of Tuesday to elucidate what occurred or face what May mentioned have been“much more extensive” measures in opposition to the $1.5 trillion Russian financial system.
If no passable Russian response is obtained by midnight London time then May will define Britain’s response in parliament. She is because of maintain a gathering of high safety officers on Wednesday.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson mentioned the poisoning represented the primary use of nerve brokers on the continent of Europe since World War Two. The British response, he mentioned, can be“commensurate but robust”.
Russia has requested entry to the nerve agent used in opposition to Skripal however Britain has denied it entry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov mentioned. Interfax reported that Russia had summoned the British ambassador.
JOINT WESTERN RESPONSE
Britain might name on allies for a coordinated Western response, freeze the belongings of Russian business leaders and officers, expel diplomats, launch targetted cyber assaults and in the reduction of participation in occasions such because the soccer World Cup.
European allies together with French President Emmanuel Macron expressed solidarity with Britain although President Donald Trump has not but publicly commented on the assault.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson mentioned the United States had full confidence within the evaluation that Russia was accountable. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders mentioned the United States stood by Britain however stopped in need of blaming Russia.
The European Union pledged to face by Britain, which is because of depart the bloc in simply over a 12 months’s time, although the bloc has struggled to take care of a standard entrance on Russian sanctions.
A conservative ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Norbert Roettgen, mentioned that if Russia fails to cooperate then there must be a joint Western response.
British lawmakers say Russia’s oligarchs, the super-wealthy who amassed fortunes underneath Boris Yeltsin and Putin, must be denied entry to the luxurious existence supplied by London and the West.
The British capital has been dubbed“Londongrad” as a result of giant portions of Russian cash that have poured in because the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The EU has travel restrictions and asset freezes in opposition to 150 folks and 38 corporations. EU nationals and firms are additionally banned from shopping for or promoting new bonds or fairness in some state-owned Russian banks and main Russian vitality corporations.
May mentioned Russia had proven a sample of aggression together with the annexation of Crimea and the homicide of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after consuming inexperienced tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.
A British public inquiry found the killing of Litvinenko had in all probability been authorised by Putin and carried out by two Russians, one among them a former KGB bodyguard who later turned a member of the Russian parliament.
Both denied accountability, as did Moscow.
Putin, a former KGB spy who took over as Kremlin chief from Yeltsin on the final day of 1999, has denied allegations that Russia meddled within the 2016 U.S. presidential election and says the West has repeatedly tried to undermine Russian pursuits.
Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian brokers to British intelligence earlier than his arrest in Moscow in 2004. He was sentenced to 13 years in jail in 2006, and in 2010 was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged for Russian spies.
Since rising from the John le Carre world of excessive espionage and betrayal, he has lived modestly in Salisbury and stored out of the highlight till he was found unconscious on Sunday.
A British policeman who was one of many first to take care of the stricken spy was additionally affected by the nerve agent. He is now acutely aware in a severe however secure situation, police mentioned.
Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Robin Emmott in Brussels, Andreas Rinke in Berlin and Katya Golubkova in Moscow; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Richard Balmforth