Russian spy case: UK ‘encouraged’ by international support

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LONDON: The UK government today said that it was “encouraged” by the support offered by its international allies over the poisoning of a UK-based Russian spy, even as Russia denied any role in the deadly nerve agent attack.
UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson said that he had spoken to a number of allies, including the US and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), and there had been a “willingness” to show “solidarity”.

His comments came a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May set a Tuesday midnight deadline for the Russian government to clarify how much it knew about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury on March 4. In a House of Commons statement yesterday, she said that it is “highly likely” that Russia was involved in the “brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil” with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by the country. “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others,” she said. The poison used against Skripal and his daughter was revealed as part of a group of deadly nerve agents known as ‘Novichok’, which means “newcomer” and was used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War era in 1970s and 1980s.

Like most nerve agents, it has the effect of blocking messages from the nerves to the muscles in the body, which leads to a collapse of body functions and ultimately death by asphyxiation.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia was “not to blame” and demanded access to samples of the substance used against Skripal. He said Moscow was willing to cooperate with the investigation but the UK would be “better off” complying with its international obligations “before putting forward ultimatums”.

“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,” May had told Parliament.

International allies have been responding to the nerve agent attack, offering support to the UK against the Kremlin. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who spoke to Johnson on the phone about the case today, said the US supported the UK’s assessment that Russia was likely responsible. He said it appeared the “really egregious act… clearly came from Russia” and there should be “serious consequences”.

“We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences. We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses,” he said.

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