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Britain, France, the US, and Germany united in 'abhorrence' over first nerve agent attack in Europe since WWII

Russia’s foreign minister earlier threatened to respond to the deportation of Russian diplomats from the UK by kicking out British diplomats on Russian soil in turn.

RUSSIA-POLITICS-KREMLIN Source: Getty Images

Updated 1.38pm

BRITAIN, FRANCE, GERMANY, and the US have condemned a nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy, saying there was “no plausible alternative explanation” to Russian involvement and urging Moscow to disclose details of a Soviet chemical weapons programme.

“We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” in the English city of Salisbury on 4 March, said the statement issued by the British government.

This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War. It is an assault on UK sovereignty and any such use by a State party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all.

“Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behaviour. We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council to uphold international peace and security,” the statement concludes.

Earlier, Russia responded to Britain’s announcement that it would expel 23 suspected Russian spies after blaming the Kremlin for the poisoning of a former double agent on British soil.

“The position of the British side appears to us absolutely irresponsible,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

He said retaliatory steps would soon follow, with Putin likely to choose the option that “most suits Russia’s interests.”

Russia would respond by kicking out British diplomats, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying at an event in Moscow, adding that it would happen “soon.”

The US and France has said that it shares the UK’s assessment that Russia was responsible for the nerve agent attack on former Russian officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

“The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom, using a military-grade nerve agent,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the meeting held at Britain’s request.

United Nations Security Council Discusses Syria US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Source: Spencer Platt/GettyImages

The White House also issued a statement that the US “stands in solidarity with its closest ally”.

It added the incident “fits into a pattern of behaviour in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes”.

French President Emmanuel Macron said this morning that he would announce unspecified “measures” in the coming days over the poisoning of a Russian former double agent in Britain.

“France shares Britain’s assessment that there is no other plausible explanation and reiterates its solidarity with his ally,” Macron’s office said.

Since the start of the week, Britain has kept France closely informed of the evidence gathered by British investigators and of elements demonstrating Russian responsibility in the attack.

In a joint statement by its 29 member states, the US-led Nato alliance said the attack was a “clear breach of international norms and agreements”.

EU Council President Donald Tusk offered his “full solidarity” and indicated the issue would be on the agenda of next week’s summit in Brussels.

Background

<> on March 14, 2018 in Gillingham, England. Forensic teams remove a recovery truck used in the aftermath of the Salisbury nerve agent attack. Source: Christopher Furlong via Getty

Britain yesterday expelled 23 Russian diplomats over the nerve agent poisoning of the former spy, and suspended high-level contacts, including for the World Cup.

British Prime Minister Theresa May told Britain’s parliament that Russia had failed to respond to her demand for an explanation on how a Soviet-designed chemical, Novichok, was used in the English city of Salisbury on 4 March.

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in New York, America sided firmly with Britain, rejecting Moscow’s claim that it was not involved in the attack.

Nato allies have expressed their support for Britain following the first use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II.

“There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter,” May told parliament.

This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.

World Cup boycott

May said 23 Russian diplomats believed to be intelligence officers must leave Britain within a week.

Britain also suspended all planned-high level contacts, including an invitation for Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit, but May said she did not want to break off relations entirely.

She vowed to clamp down on Russians suspected of “hostile state activity”, freezing assets for those in Britain and detaining those arriving at the border.

Neither members of the royal family nor ministers will attend the football World Cup in Russia later this year.

Alexei Sorokin, the chief of the World Cup organising committee, said the boycott would have “no impact on the quality of the tournament”.

“It is every fan’s choice whether to come or not.”

U.K. Chancellor Of The Exchequer Philip Hammond Presents Spring Statement UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Source: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Analysts said it was a softer response than initially expected, but allowed for further retaliation if necessary.

Jonathan Eyal, of London’s RUSI military think tank, said it was a “first step” in Britain confronting Moscow, given May chose not to expel the Russian ambassador to London, nor initiate a complete cut-off in relations.

“So in many respects the prime minister was keeping some ammunition dry for a future confrontation,” he added.

‘Choice for confrontation’

Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson will call for additional military spending in a speech Thursday, according to the Daily Telegraph.

“In the face of intensifying threats, we must prioritise investment in military capabilities,” the paper reported he will say.

We cannot sit back and let events overtake us.

On Monday May said it was “highly likely” that Russia was behind the attack, which left Skripal and his daughter in a critical condition and a policeman also in hospital.

She said Moscow could be directly responsible or may have “lost control” of the nerve agent, and gave it until midnight Tuesday to disclose details of the Novichok programme to the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Yesterday, she said Russia had responded with “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”.

Moscow has said it is willing to cooperate but has accused Britain of failing to follow its own obligations for the investigation under OPCW rules, complaining that its request for samples of the nerve agent have been rejected.

“The British government made a choice for confrontation with Russia,” the foreign ministry said, accusing London of pursuing a political agenda.

At the United Nations, Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia repeated Moscow’s denials and suggested the attack was a provocation aimed at tarnishing Russia’s image ahead of the World Cup and elections.

“Russia had nothing to do with this incident,” Nebenzia told the council and again demanded proof of a link to Russia. “We have nothing to fear. We have nothing to hide,” he said.

British experts say Skripal (66) and his 33-year-old daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent from a broad category known as Novichok, which was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The case has drawn parallels with the 2006 death by radiation poisoning of former Russian agent and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, which Britain blamed on Moscow.

Additional reporting Cianan Brennan

© – AFP 2018

Read: Britain to expel 23 Russian diplomats after former double agent poisoned >

Read: Russia threatens to ban all British media from its country if the UK bans Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT >

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