Russia spy: Allies condemn nerve agent attack

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Sergei Skripal and his daughter YuliaImage source, EPA/ Yulia Skripal/Facebook
Image caption,
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are in a critical condition in hospital

The leaders of France, Germany, the US and UK say there is "no plausible alternative explanation" to Russia having been behind the nerve agent attack in the UK.

They condemned the "first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War", calling it an assault on UK sovereignty.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump said "it certainly looks like the Russians were behind it".

The UK has expelled Russian diplomats.

"We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen, brazen act and despicable act," Prime Minister Theresa May said during a visit to the site of the attack in Wiltshire.

Mr Trump said it was a "very sad situation" that the US was taking "very seriously".

In France, President Emmanuel Macron is to snub the official Russian stand at the Paris book fair on Thursday, officials said. Earlier Mr Macron said he would announce more measures in the coming days.

Russia has denied any involvement and vowed a swift response to the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats, whom the UK said were operating as spies.

The nerve agent was used on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the city of Salisbury. Sergei Skripal, 66, and Yulia Skripal, 33, remain in a critical condition in hospital.

What does the joint statement say?

Media caption,

Trump: "It certainly looks like Russia is behind" nerve agent attack

The four nations say they "abhor the attack".

The statement says: "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."

The nations urged Russia to "address all questions related to the attack" and provide all details about the nerve agent used.

Media caption,

The BBC's Paul Adams looks at why the UK is expelling 23 Russian diplomats

It added: "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."

Separately, the US has announced sanctions against Russian individuals and entities accused of trying to influence the 2016 election and carrying out cyber-attacks.

What does Russia say?

Russia says it had nothing to do with the attack and will respond to UK measures against it.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the UK was being "absolutely irresponsible". Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has vowed a response "very soon".

Meanwhile Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has denied that either the Soviet Union or Russia ever had a programme to create the Novichok nerve agent identified as having been used, the Interfax news agency reported.

The Russian embassy in London said the decision to expel its diplomats was "unacceptable, unjustified and short-sighted".

It said Russia closed all Soviet-era chemical weapons programmes in 1992 and some of the scientists involved were flown to other countries, including the UK.

Media caption,

Vladimir Putin is challenged by the BBC over the Skripal poisoning

"To identify a substance, formula and samples are needed - means UK has capacity to produce suspected nerve agent," it said.

Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko also told Russian TV that the embassy had received threats against its diplomats and said it was working with UK police, Russia's Tass news agency reported.

What is the UK doing?

Mrs May on Thursday visited Salisbury. While there, she was briefed by public health experts, as Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain critically ill in hospital.

She also thanked emergency services and spoke to members of the public.

On Wednesday, the UK leader gave 23 Russian diplomats, identified as "undeclared intelligence officers", one week to leave, in the largest mass expulsion in the UK in more than 30 years.

Other measures taken against Russia include:

  • Increased checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • The freezing of Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten life or property in the UK
  • The suspension of all planned high-level bilateral contacts
  • A World Cup boycott by ministers and the Royal Family.

The UK will also create a new chemical weapons "defence centre", Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has said.

The facility is to be located at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, where scientists helped identify the nerve agent used against Mr Skripal.