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diplomatic tensions

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

Tensions are rising after the UK said it was likely Russia was behind a recent poisoning attack on an ex-spy.

RUSSIA HAS SAID that it will ban all British media from its country if UK authorities banned the Kremlin-backed RT broadcaster as diplomatic tensions rise in the aftermath of the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in England.

Russia warned the UK to expect reprisals if it announces sanctions over the poisoning of the former double agent, as the US and other allies joined London in demanding answers on how a Soviet-designed nerve agent was used in the attack.

Prime Minister Theresa May says Russia was “highly likely” to be behind the attack, giving Moscow until midnight tonight to provide answers on the 4 March poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted “Russia is not guilty”, saying it was ready to cooperate with Britain but complaining that its request for samples of the nerve agent had been rejected.

The Russian embassy said it had formally demanded the government allow a joint investigation, saying “without that, there can be no sense in any statements from London”.

Earlier, in the first sign of the practical implications of the growing diplomatic crisis, Russia issued its threat in relation to banning British media.

UK regulator Ofcom has warned it could review RT’s licence if Russia were found to have been responsible for the attack on Skripal, who came to Britain in a 2010 spy swap.

The United States, NATO and the European Union have all backed Britain in its stand-off with Moscow, following what is believed to be the first nerve agent attack in Europe since World War II.

In a phone call with May on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said Russia must “provide unambiguous answers”.

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

Commenting today, Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney also condemned the attack.

“Ireland condemns this cowardly attack which has taken place on our neighbour’s soil,” Coveney said.

“The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic weapons, is unacceptable and abhorrent.”

He said that the incident “represents a disturbing violation of international law and goes against norms which have long been established”.

Coveney said that Ireland offered its “full support and solidarity to the UK” and would support the UK’s efforts to ensure a thorough investigation.

Allies back Britain

May gave Moscow an ultimatum yesterday to explain whether Skripal’s attempted murder was a state-sponsored attack, or whether it had “lost control” of the nerve agent.

Pharmacology experts said Novichok, a broad category of more than 100 nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union during the late stages of the Cold War, was “more dangerous and sophisticated” than sarin or VX.

May will gather her National Security Council tomorrow morning “to discuss the response from Russia”, and will then give a statement to MPs, her spokesman said.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson vowed that Britain’s response, if it concludes that Russia was responsible, would be “commensurate”.

European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said the EU was united in “unwavering” solidarity, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was taking the British accusation “extremely seriously”.

French President Emmanuel Macron said for his part the attack was “unacceptable” and “reaffirmed France’s commitment to fighting impunity when it comes to chemical weapons use”, his office said.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – sacked by Trump today over disagreements on issues including the Iran nuclear deal – said Washington should do more to respond to “Russia’s troubling behaviour and actions”.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the incident was “of great concern” amid reports that Britain was consulting NATO allies about possibly invoking its Article 5 principle of common defence.

But Moscow today summoned the British ambassador and called the accusations “another dirty attempt by British authorities to discredit Russia”.

The case has prompted comparisons with the 2006 radiation poisoning of former spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, which a British public inquiry blamed on Russia.

British police and intelligence services are now revisiting a number of deaths of Russians that were considered suspicious, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said.

In a further twist, former senior Russian executive Nikolai Glushkov, linked to late Kremlin opponent Boris Berezovsky, was found dead in London in unexplained circumstances, British and Russian media reported.

© AFP 2018

Explainer: What we know about Russia’s Novichok nerve agents

Read: Moscow calls Britain’s spy attack accusations a ‘dirty attempt to discredit Russia’>

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