‘Highly likely’ Russia behind attack on former spy, says May
Prime minister says Kremlin given deadline to disclose information about nerve gas used
Theresa May has told MPs it is highly likely that Russia was behind the attempted murder with a nerve agent last week which left a former spy and his daughter in a critical condition. She has given Moscow until Tuesday night to explain how the Russian-made nerve agent was deployed in the attack.
“Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” she said.
The prime minister said that, if Russia’s response was unsatisfactory, she would outline the “full range of measures” Britain will take in response.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia have been critically ill in hospital since they were found slumped on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury just over a week ago. Public health officials have told anyone who visited a bar and restaurant where the attack may have taken place to wash their clothes and possessions to avoid contamination.
Ms May said chemicals weapons experts had identified the substance used in the attack as a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, known as “Novichok”.
“There are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March. Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country. Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others,” she said.
Among the measures under consideration are new economic sanctions targeted at wealthy Russians close to the Kremlin. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced cries of “shame” from Tory MPs when he referred to hundreds of thousands of pounds donated by Russians to the Conservatives.
“We’re all familiar with the way huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia, sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics. Meddling in elections, as the prime minister put it, and there has been over £800,000 worth of donations to the Conservative party from Russian oligarchs and their associates,” Mr Corbyn said.
The Labour leader said that, even before the investigation in Salisbury is complete, the government could be taking action to introduce new financial sanctions powers, including a version of the US Magnitsky Act, which imposes asset freezes and travel bans on named individuals implicated in human rights abuses and corruption.
“But instead they’re currently resisting Labour’s amendments to the sanctions and anti-money laundering Bill, which could introduce the so-called Magnitsky powers – so will the prime minister agree today to back those amendments to the sanctions and anti-money-laundering Bill?” he said.
Russia has dismissed Britain’s claim that Moscow was responsible for poisoning Mr Skripal as a “circus show”. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the accusations against Russia represented “another information and political campaign based on a provocation”.