Russian denies carrying out nerve agent attack in Britain

Media told country facing hostile ‘provocations’ from foreign powers

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says Britain has violated the Chemical Weapons Convention in denying Russia access to the toxic nerve agent used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on March 4th. Video: Reuters


Russia denied British allegations on Tuesday that it was responsible for the attempted murder of a former spy and double agent and his daughter in southwest England.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said Moscow had refused to comply with Britain’s demand for an explanation of the attack until it was supplied with samples of the toxic nerve agent used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal in Salisbury on March 4th.

In a televised press conference, Mr Lavrov said Britain had violated the Chemical Weapons Convention in denying Russia access to the poison. Britain should comply with its international obligations before “putting forward ultimatums”, Mr Lavrov said.

He was speaking the day after British prime minister Theresa May said a nerve agent called Novichok, developed in the Soviet Union, had been used to poison the Skripals. In a speech to the British parliament, Ms May set a deadline of midnight on Tuesday for Russia to explain how Novichok had arrived in Britain. There was a “very high probability” that Russia was involved in the attack, Ms May said.

Russian officials closed ranks on Tuesday, issuing a string of statements to state-controlled media that the country was yet again facing hostile “provocations” from foreign powers.

Discredit Russia

The Russian foreign ministry summoned British ambassador Laurie Bristow to protest against the allegations. Britain was openly attempting to discredit Russia, the foreign ministry said in a statement after the meeting. “Any threats will not go unanswered.”

Russian politicians discussed a possible response to the threat of British sanctions over the Skripal case, pledging tit-for-tat measures that would mirror the severity of any fresh penalties.

Leonid Slutsky, the head of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said the attack on the Skripals was a “huge provocation” cooked up by London and Washington in an attempt to “deform Russia’s image”.

The UK and US were using the Skripal case to distract attention from their own domestic political problems as well as trying to damage the Kremlin’s reputation in the days before the March 18th presidential election, he said.

The Russian general prosecutor said it was prepared to co-operate with the British investigation on a legal basis once the allegations related to the attempted murder were backed by evidence. “For now these are politicised accusations,” said Alexander Buksman, deputy Russian prosecutor. “As always Russia is to blame for everything. Without any investigations.”

Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, warned that Russia would face even worse consequences for the poisoning of the Skripals than for the downing of the Malaysia Airlines passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine in July 2014 that provoked a wave of tough economic sanctions from the US and Europe.

Russia has denied involvement in shooting down the MH17 plane.

Yevgeniya Albats, editor of the New Times, a liberal independent Russian weekly, said whoever was to blame for Mr Skripal’s poisoning, the attack would be taken as a warning by Russians who have left their country for Britain not to get on the wrong side of the Kremlin.

The days when fabulously wealthy Russians could “make money in Russia and live in the West” were over, Albats wrote on the Echo Moskvy radio website.

The misfortunes of Mr Skripal and his daughter carried a veiled message: “nothing concrete, figure it out yourselves, but remember, we are behind your backs. And behind the backs of your children too”.