Britain, Russia trade blame over poisoning of former spy
London, Mar 18 (AP) Britain’s foreign secretary said Sunday that the trail of blame for the poisoning of a former spy “leads inexorably to the Kremlin,” after a Russian envoy suggested the nerve agent involved could have come from a UK lab.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Britain has evidence that Russia has been stockpiling nerve agents like the one used against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Johnson told the BBC that officials from the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would arrive in Britain on Monday to take samples of the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals.
Britain says it is Novichok, a class of powerful nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War.
“We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok,” Johnson said.
Vladimir Chizhov, Moscow’s EU ambassador, said Russia has no chemical weapons stockpiles and was not behind the poisoning.
“Russia had nothing to do with it,” Chizhov told the BBC.
Chizhov pointed out that the UK chemical weapons research facility, Porton Down, is only eight miles from Salisbury, where Sergei Skripal a former Russian intelligence officer convicted in his home country of spying for Britain— and his daughter were found March 4. They remain in critical condition.
Asked whether he was saying Porton Down was responsible, Chizhov replied: “I don’t know.”
The British government dismissed the ambassador’s suggestion as “nonsense.” Johnson said it was “not the response of a country that really believed itself to be innocent.” Britain and Russia have each expelled 23 diplomats and taken other measures in the escalating tit-for-tat dispute.
Johnson said Britain’s National Security Council will meet this week to discuss “what further measures if any” the country will take.
Opposition lawmakers are calling on the government to clamp down on the illicitly gained money of wealthy Russians in Britain.
Critics say UK authorities have been slow to investigate the origins of the wealth invested in London’s financial district and property market.
Russia’s ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, called for “cooler heads,” telling the Mail on Sunday that the dispute is “escalating dangerously and out of proportion.”