Boris Johnson blames Vladimir Putin personally for Salisbury nerve agent attack
The Foreign Secretary said it was ‘overwhelmingly likely’ that the Russian president directed the use of a nerve agent on the streets of Britain.
It is “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered the use of a nerve agent in the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said.
Mr Johnson’s decision to place blame for the attack in Salisbury on Mr Putin personally came as Britain awaited Moscow’s response to the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats.
The Foreign Secretary’s comments earned a scathing rebuke from Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said: “We have said on different levels and occasions that Russia has nothing to do with this story. Any reference or mentioning of our president is nothing else but shocking and unpardonable diplomatic misconduct.”
The Kremlin is also considering its response to the United States after Donald Trump’s administration imposed sanctions on Russians allegedly involved in interfering with the 2016 US elections and cyber-attacks.
Speaking at an event in Moscow on Thursday night, Vladimir Putin said Russia is a “proud” nation “and will be in the future, too”.
Asked on Friday whether Moscow would expel UK diplomats, his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said: “Of course we will.”
Visiting the Battle of Britain Bunker museum in Uxbridge with his Polish counterpart, Mr Johnson singled out Mr Putin personally for blame.
“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision – and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision – to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War, ” said the Foreign Secretary.
“That is why we are at odds with Russia.”
Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz said: “We are sure that it is the Russian state which is involved in this attempt. It is certain.”
The attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury was highlighted by the US Treasury as one of the justifications for the tougher line against Moscow.
The US treasury department said the use of a military-grade nerve agent in the Salisbury incident “further demonstrates the reckless and irresponsible conduct of its (Russia’s) government”.
The sanctions prompted a swift threat of retaliation from the Russian government, which said a response was already being prepared.
Russia also gave a dismissive response to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s call for it to “go away and shut up”.
Mr Lavrov said: “I guess he wants to go down in history with some bombastic statements … Maybe he lacks education, I don’t know.”
A Downing Street spokesman would not be drawn on whether Theresa May endorsed Mr Williamson’s comments, saying only: “The Prime Minister sent her own very clear message to Russia over the course of the week.”
The Daily Telegraph reported that the nerve agent used in the attack could have been planted in Yulia Skripal’s suitcase during a recent trip to Moscow.
The newspaper said senior intelligence sources believe an item of clothing, cosmetics or a gift could have been laced with the Novichok toxin.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose response to the attack has led to criticism from some on his backbenches, said “the evidence points towards Russia” being responsible – but the possibility of gangsters being behind the attack rather than the Kremlin could not be excluded.
He warned Mrs May not to “rush way ahead of the evidence” – highlighting the way international crises such as the Iraq War had seen “clear thinking” overwhelmed by “emotion and hasty judgments”.
Writing in the Guardian he warned against a “new Cold War” of “escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent”.
Confirming Labour’s support for Mrs May’s actions, Mr Corbyn said: “We agree with the Government’s action in relation to Russian diplomats.”
But he added: “Measures to tackle the oligarchs and their loot would have a far greater impact on Russia’s elite than limited tit-for-tat expulsions.”
The attack in Salisbury was an appalling act of violence, which we condemn in the strongest terms.— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) March 14, 2018
The Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence and our response must be both decisive and proportionate.https://t.co/yaI3fXbAAu
Mr Corbyn said that Mrs May was right on Monday to identify two possibilities for the source of the nerve agent – either Russia authorised the attack or had lost control of the Novichok substance.
“If the latter, a connection to Russian mafia-like groups that have been allowed to gain a toehold in Britain cannot be excluded,” he said.
The Labour leader, who opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, added: “In my years in Parliament I have seen clear thinking in an international crisis overwhelmed by emotion and hasty judgments too many times.
“Flawed intelligence and dodgy dossiers led to the calamity of the Iraq invasion.”
But senior shadow cabinet member Sir Keir Starmer gave his unqualified support to Mrs May’s approach, telling BBC1’s Question Time: “I think it is very important that we support the action the Prime Minister laid out on Wednesday as a response to this unprovoked attack.
“This is not the first time, it needs to be called out – no ifs and no buts – and we need strong action as set out by the Prime Minister on Wednesday.”
Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who heads up the national counter-terror police network which is leading the Salisbury investigation, appealed for anyone with information about the “despicable” and “appalling” attack to come forward.