Fingers pointing at Kremlin over Salisbury nerve agent attack, says leading MP
The nerve agent attack on a Russian spy and his daughter looks like a state-sponsored murder attempt, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has said.
Tom Tugendhat said he would be surprised if Prime Minister Theresa May did not blame the Kremlin for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the Salisbury incident was "looking awfully like it was state-sponsored attempted murder".
Mr Tugendhat added: "It's a bit too early to be absolutely certain of that but we are expecting to see the Prime Minister make an announcement soon.
"And, frankly, I would be surprised if she did not point the finger at the Kremlin."
In response to a request for comment from the Press Association, Vladimir Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov said: "We consider inappropriate any mention of the Russian government in the context of what happened to Sergei Skripal.
"We have nothing to do with the story."
The comments came as Mrs May gathered defence and intelligence chiefs in Downing Street amid speculation the Government is moving closer to publicly blaming Russia.
The Prime Minister has summoned a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) where ministers will be briefed on the latest intelligence on the incident.
She is likely to come under intense pressure to take tough action if a clear link to the Kremlin has been established.
The meeting comes as the former Russian double agent and his daughter remain critically ill in hospital eight days after they were found collapsed on a bench in the Wiltshire city.
Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey is in a serious but stable condition in the Salisbury District Hospital, where he is said to be conscious and talking.
The NSC brings together senior ministers from relevant departments and is attended by intelligence and military chiefs as required.
Measures potentially on the table if they do decide to take action could include the expulsion of Russian diplomats and spies, new financial sanctions against individuals linked to the Kremlin, and withdrawal of official representation from the World Cup in Russia.
On Sunday, hundreds of diners and pub-goers were urged to wash clothes and other items a week after potentially coming into contact with the nerve agent.
The "precautionary advice" was issued after traces of the substance were found in The Mill pub and the nearby Zizzi restaurant, in Salisbury.
The Tory leader of Salisbury City Council, Matthew Dean, insisted advice given to members of the public to wash their clothes if they had been to the venues Mr Skripal had visited had been issued quickly enough.
"I think what I am very confident about is that consistently the advice has been that this is a very, very precautionary approach and that they are advising that people wash their clothes because they don't want people to come into prolonged contact," he told the BBC.
He said it had been "business as usual" in the city at the weekend.
In other developments Wiltshire Police told residents "not to be alarmed" as counter-terror police were helped by armed forces, including Royal Marines, in the clean-up operation as:
- Some eight marked and unmarked police cars were removed from Bourne Hill station in the biggest military operation yet.
- Two fire and rescue lorries were seen entering the police cordon leading to Mr Skripal's house.
- Investigators in hazmat suits bagged up items inside The Mill pub.
England's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said she believed up to 500 people would have been in either of the two venues between the Sunday lunchtime and Monday night.
She said: "I want to reassure the general public that the risk to us all from this incident in Salisbury has not changed, and that the risk to us all remains low."
The advice included machine wash clothing worn on the day, and double-bagging items which would normally be dry cleaned to await further advice.
Mr Tugendhat also warned that football fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup may be at risk of harm if tensions escalate between London and Moscow.