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 essential situation since March four after they had been found unconscious on a bench exterior a purchasing centre within the English cathedral metropolis of Salisbury.
Prime Minister Theresa May stated it was“highly likely” that Russia was accountable after Britain recognized the substance as a part of the highly-lethal Novichok group of nerve brokers developed by the Soviet army within the 1970s and 1980s.
“Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country,” May advised parliament on Monday.“Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
Russia holds a presidential election on March 18 during which Putin, himself a former KGB spy, is predicted to coast to a fourth time period within the Kremlin. It 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 tip of Tuesday to elucidate what occurred or face what May stated had been“much more extensive” measures in opposition to the $1.5 trillion Russian economic system.
If no passable Russian response is obtained by midnight London time then May will define Britain’s response in parliament. She was resulting from maintain a gathering of prime safety officers on Wednesday.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated that the British response could be“commensurate but robust”.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who on Tuesday ousted Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, stated that it sounded as if Russia was accountable. Trump stated he would take the British conclusions about Russia’s involvement as reality.
Russia has requested entry to the nerve agent used in opposition to Skripal however Britain has rejected this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated. Britain’s ambassador to Russia met Lavrov’s deputy in Moscow on Tuesday, an embassy spokesman stated.[nL8N1QV3PK]
JOINT WESTERN RESPONSE
Britain may name on allies for a coordinated Western response, freeze the property of Russian business leaders and officers, expel diplomats, launch focused cyber assaults and in the reduction of participation in occasions such because the soccer World Cup.
While commerce figures present that Russia accounts for lower than 1 p.c of British imports, London is of main significance for Russian corporations searching for to lift capital and is the Western capital of alternative for a lot of Russian business leaders.
The European Union stated that the tried homicide of Skripal was“shocking” and that it was able to assist Britain if requested to take action. France and Germany condemned the assault and provided assist to Britain.
“We stand with the UK in pursuit of justice in this case and are ready to offer support if necessary,” a spokeswoman for EU overseas coverage chief Federica Mogherini stated.
Huge quantities of Russian cash have poured into the British capital because the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, inflicting some to confer with it as“Londongrad”.
James Sherr, a Russia knowledgeable on the Chatham House think-tank, advised Reuters Britain may harm Putin and his allies by denying them entry to the City of London’s monetary companies.
“They have milked and taken for granted its services as a hub for their global dealings and investments. They have been accustomed for a long time to regard this country as their playground and we have the means to change that,” he stated.
“This regime in Russia is founded on a tight and unprincipled merger at all levels between power and money: if you attack the money, you are also attacking the regime’s power.”
The EU has travel restrictions and asset freezes in opposition to 150 individuals and 38 corporations, a response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. 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 stated 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 ingesting inexperienced tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.
A public inquiry found the killing of Litvinenko had most likely been accepted by Putin and carried out by two Russians, one among them a former KGB bodyguard who grew to become a member of the Russian parliament. Both denied duty, as did Moscow.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd stated police and the MI5 spy company would look into allegations of Russian state involvement in 14 different deaths in Britain in recent times.
Britain’s ambassador to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons stated Russia had did not declare its full stockpile of nerve brokers to the worldwide physique.
Peter Wilson advised reporters that Russia, which says it destroyed all its chemical weapons underneath OPCW supervision final 12 months, has in reality“failed for many years” to totally disclose its chemical weapons programme.
Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian brokers to British intelligence earlier than his arrest in Moscow in 2004. He was imprisoned in 2006 however in 2010 he was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged for Russian spies.
He had lived modestly in Salisbury since then 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 critical however steady situation.
Additional reporting by Alistair Smout, Elizabeth Piper and Kate Holton in London, Alastair Macdonald and Robin Emmott in Brussels, Andreas Rinke in Berlin, and Katya Golubkova, Christian Lowe and Polina Nikolskaya in Moscow, Anthony Deutsch within the Hague; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Jon Boyle