Belfast Telegraph

Allies join with UK to blame Russia for poison murder bid on former spy

By Sam Lister

Leaders of Britain, the US, Germany and France have issued a joint statement blaming Russia for the Salisbury poison attack.

The four allies said it was "an assault on UK sovereignty" and a breach of international law that "threatens the security of us all".

The statement was issued as Prime Minister Theresa May visited the scene of the attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

Mrs May said: "What is important in the international arena - and we have taken this into Nato, into the United Nations, taken it through into the European Union - is that allies are standing alongside us and saying this is part of a pattern of activity that we have seen from Russia in their interference, their disruption that they have perpetrated across a number of countries in Europe.

"This happened in the UK but it could have happened anywhere, and we take a united stance against it."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile, declined to lay the blame firmly with Moscow, saying the nerve agent "appears" to be from Russia "either from the state or from a rogue element of the state".

In a joint statement, Mrs May, US President Donald Trump, France's Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Angela Merkel said they "abhor" the poison attack and share the assessment there was "no plausible alternative explanation" other than Russia being responsible.

The leaders called on Moscow to answer all questions about the Salisbury incident and "live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council to uphold international peace and security".

"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," they said.

"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."

Mr Trump said: "It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it," adding: "We are taking it very seriously."

Nato states were briefed by UK National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels.

The military alliance's secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the attack took place "against the backdrop of a reckless pattern of Russian behaviour" including its interference in Georgia and Ukraine, and attempts to subvert democratic elections. "We do not want a new Cold War. And we do not want to be dragged into a new arms race ... But let there be no doubt. Nato will defend all allies against any threat."

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov warned Moscow will expel British diplomats "soon" after Mrs May announced the biggest expulsion of Russian embassy staff since the Cold War. Some 23 diplomats identified as undeclared intelligence officers have been given a week to leave.

Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the final decision on retaliatory measures "will, of course, be made by the Russian President", adding: "There is no doubt that he will choose the variant that best of all corresponds to the interests of the Russian Federation."

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said Russia "should go away and should shut up".

Belfast Telegraph

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