Western allies unite behind Theresa May’s stance on Russia
Moscow has warned it will announce retaliatory measures ‘soon’.
Leaders of Britain, the US, Germany and France have issued a joint statement blaming Russia for the Salisbury poison attack.
The four allies urged Moscow to provide “full and complete disclosure” of its Novichok nerve agent programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
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.
Speaking as she met emergency services and residents of the Wiltshire city, Mrs May said: “We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen and despicable act that has taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city.”
The joint statement agreed by Mrs May, US President Donald Trump, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel followed speculation of Paris wobbling in its support for Britain’s response to the March 4 attack, which has seen 23 Russian diplomats ordered out of the country.
A statement of “solidarity” with the UK was issued by the Elysee Palace afer an early-morning phone call from Mrs May to Mr Macron.
In the joint statement, the four leaders said that they “abhor” the poison attack and share the UK assessment that there was “no plausible alternative explanation” other than Russia being responsible.
“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.”
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”.
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.
“Russia has integrated conventional and nuclear warfare in its military doctrine and exercises,” he said.
“This blurring of the line between nuclear and conventional lowers the threshold for Russia’s use of nuclear weapons.
“And the blurring of the line between peace, crisis and war is destabilising and dangerous. Nato’s approach remains firm, defensive, and proportionate.
“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.”
“We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury”. Full statement: https://t.co/Om1uqm9K58— UK Prime Minister (@10DowningStreet) March 15, 2018
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.
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”.
Mr Peskov said Moscow was “perplexed” by the UK Government’s stance, insisting that allegations of Russian culpability were “unsubstantiated”.
But Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the evidence against Moscow was “overwhelming”.
“There is something in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’ve heard from the Russians that to me betokens and indicates their fundamental guilt,“ said Mr Johnson.
“They want simultaneously to deny it and yet at the same time to glory in it. The reason they’ve chosen this nerve agent is to show that it’s Russia, and to show people in their agencies who might think of defecting … that Russia will take revenge.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that.
“Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up.”
Home Secretary Amber Rudd was chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergencies committee in London to discuss the latest situation.
And Environment Secretary Michael Gove led a cross-governmental ministerial recovery group looking at support which will go to the people and city of Salisbury in the aftermath of the incident.
Mr Johnson said the UK’s response means Russia’s intelligence capabilities in the country had been “basically eviscerated” for decades.
He confirmed the UK will submit a sample of the nerve agent to the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for it to carry out its own tests.