May wins backing of Trump, EU leaders in showdown with Russia

LONDON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed on Tuesday that Russia should present“unambiguous answers” after London gave Moscow till midnight to elucidate how a Soviet-era nerve weapon was used towards a former Russian double agent.

May, who stated on Monday it was“highly likely” that Russia was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, additionally gained help from Britain’s most important European allies and the European Union, which denounced the assault as“shocking” and supplied assist to trace down these accountable.

Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, stated the assault was“horrendous”.

Russia, nonetheless, signalled there was little probability that it might reply adequately to London’s name for a reputable clarification by Wednesday.

Denying it had performed any half within the assault, which left the 66-year-old Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia preventing for his or her lives, Russia stated it might ignore the ultimatum till London handed over samples of the nerve agent used and complied with worldwide obligations for joint investigations of such incidents.

“Any threats to take‘sanctions’ against Russia will not be left without a response,” the Russian international ministry stated in an announcement.“The British side should understand that.”

Russia holds a presidential election on Sunday through which Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB spy, is predicted to coast to a fourth time period within the Kremlin.

Skripal, a former officer with Russian army intelligence, betrayed dozens of Russian brokers to British intelligence earlier than being arrested in Moscow and jailed in 2006.

He was launched underneath a spy swap deal in 2010 and took refuge in Britain, the place he had been dwelling quietly within the cathedral metropolis of Salisbury till he and his daughter had been found unconscious on a public bench there on March four.

A British policeman who was additionally affected by the nerve agent is now aware in a severe however secure situation.


May stated on Monday Britain had recognized the substance as belonging to the deadly Novichok group of nerve brokers developed by the Soviet army within the 1970s and 1980s.

She and her ministers say Britain will take additional“robust” punitive motion towards Russian pursuits – past sanctions already in place – if Putin doesn’t come up with a reputable clarification of occasions.

Neil Basu, the Metropolitan Police’s Assistant Commissioner for Counter Terrorism, offers a briefing on the poisoning of the previous Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, exterior New Scotland Yard in London, Britain, March 13, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Trump’s endorsement of Britain’s powerful line, made throughout a telephone name with May, got here on the heels of messages of solidarity from France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They gave the British prime minister further hope of marshalling Western backing for her government because it heads in the direction of a showdown with Putin.

“President Trump agreed with Prime Minister May that the Government of the Russian Federation must provide unambiguous answers regarding how this chemical weapon, developed in Russia, came to be used in the United Kingdom,” the White House stated in an announcement concerning the two leaders’ telephone name.

“The two leaders agreed on the need for consequences for those who use these heinous weapons in flagrant violation of international norms,” it stated.

May’s spokesman stated Trump had stated the United States was“with the U.K. all the way”.

If no passable Russian response is acquired by midnight London time May is more likely to define Britain’s response in parliament on Wednesday.

It stays to be seen how a lot of a rupture in relations with Russia May’s government is ready to envisage.

While commerce figures present Russia accounts for lower than 1 p.c of British imports, London is of main significance for Russian corporations looking for to lift capital and because the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union has develop into the Western capital of alternative for a lot of Russian business leaders.

Britain might name on allies for a coordinated Western response, freeze the belongings of Russian business leaders and officers, expel diplomats or launch focused cyber assaults. It can also in the reduction of participation within the soccer World Cup which Russia is internet hosting in June and July.

Russia Today, a round the clock news community that’s funded by Putin’s government, might lose its licence to broadcast in Britain if May’s government decided that Moscow was behind the assault, Britain’s media regulator stated.

This report drew a swift response from Russia.“Not a single British media outlet will work in our country if they shut down Russia Today (RT),” the state-run RIA news company cited Maria Zakharova as saying on state tv.

The expression of solidarity from the EU got here regardless of tensions over British preparations to stop the bloc subsequent 12 months.

The EU has already imposed travel restrictions and asset freezes towards 150 folks and 38 corporations in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. EU nationals and corporations are additionally banned from shopping for or promoting new bonds or fairness in some state-owned Russian banks and main Russian vitality corporations.

But diplomats in Brussels stated that, regardless of sharing Britain’s anger, the bloc was unlikely to have a lot abdomen for imposing further sanctions on Russia since attributing the nerve assault to Moscow was troublesome and holding current financial sanctions going was proving a pressure.

Reporting by Robin Emmott, Alastair Macdonald and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, John Irish in Paris, Andreas Rinke, Andrea Shalal in Berlin, Doina Chiacu in Washington, Andrew Osborn and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones

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