LONDON (Reuters) – Britain gave Russia till midnight on Tuesday to elucidate how a Soviet-era nerve agent was used in opposition to a former Russian double agent, and U.S. President Donald Trump stated he would condemn Russia if British proof incriminated Moscow.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who stated on Monday it was“highly likely” that Russia was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, received assist from a few of Britain’s foremost 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 little probability that it will 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 combating for his or her lives, Russia stated it will 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 is within the run-up to a presidential election on Sunday by which President Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB spy, is anticipated 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 beneath a spy swap deal in 2010 and took refuge in Britain the place he had been residing quietly within the cathedral metropolis of Salisbury till he and his daughter have been found unconscious on a public bench there on March four.
A British policeman who went to the help of Skripal was additionally affected by the nerve agent. He is now aware in a critical 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 in opposition to Russian pursuits – past sanctions already in place – if Putin doesn’t come up with a reputable clarification of occasions.
With messages of solidarity coming from France’s Emmanuel Macron and from Germany’s new coalition, the expression of assist from Trump – although cautiously worded – gave May extra hope of marshalling Western backing for her government because it heads right into a showdown with Putin.
Speaking to reporters on the White House, Trump acknowledged the British prices of involvement in opposition to Russia, however stated he wanted to speak to May earlier than rendering a judgement.
“As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be,” Trump, who earlier fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after a collection of coverage rifts, stated.
“It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia, and I would certainly take that finding as fact,” he added.
If no passable Russian response is acquired by midnight London time May is prone 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 firms in search of to lift capital and for the reason that 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union has develop into the Western capital of selection for a lot of Russian business leaders.
Britain might name on allies for a coordinated Western response, freeze the property of Russian business leaders and officers, expel diplomats or launch focused cyber assaults. It may in the reduction of participation within the soccer World Cup which Russia is internet hosting in June and July.
The expression of solidarity from the EU got here regardless of tensions over British preparations to stop the bloc subsequent yr.
The EU imposed travel restrictions and asset freezes in opposition to 150 individuals and 38 firms in 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 power firms.
But diplomats in Brussels stated that, regardless of sharing Britain’s anger, the bloc is unlikely to have a lot abdomen for imposing extra sanctions on Russia since attributing the nerve assault to Moscow was tough and conserving present financial sanctions going was proving a pressure.
May stated on Monday 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. Moscow denied any accountability for that homicide regardless of the findings of a public inquiry which stated it had most likely been accepted by Putin.
Reporting by Robin Emmott, Alastair Macdonald and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, John Irish in Paris, Andreas Rinke, Andrea Shalal in Berlin, Roberta Rampton and Susan Heavey in Washington, Andrew Osborn and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Janet Lawrence