Spy poisoning: May says no other conclusion than Russian state responsibility

Theresa May has hit back at Vladimir Putin's dismissal of the British Government's claim that Russia was responsible for the Salisbury spy poisoning.

The Prime Minister said Russia had the capability, motive and intent to carry out such an attack, adding that there can be "no other conclusion".

Mrs May's comments followed strong words from Boris Johnson, who accused Russia of trying to conceal "the needle of truth in a haystack of lies" over the case - after Mr Putin dismissed the idea of Russian responsibility as "nonsense".

Arriving for a meeting with EU counterparts in Brussels, the Foreign Secretary said Moscow's denials over the incident were "increasingly absurd" as he accused the Kremlin of changing its story regarding the Novichok nerve agent Britain says was used in the attack.

The gathering of the EU Foreign Affairs Council declared its "unqualified solidarity" for the UK over the incident.

Police and army personnel suit up on Larkhill Road in Durrington, Salisbury (Ben Birchall/PA)
Police and army personnel suit up on Larkhill Road in Durrington, Salisbury (Ben Birchall/PA)

Experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are arriving in the UK on Monday to take samples of the nerve agent used in the case.

Mr Johnson said: "At one time they (Russia) say that they never made Novichok, and at another time they say they did make Novichok, but all the stocks have been destroyed ... but some of them have mysteriously escaped to Sweden, or the Czech Republic, or Slovakia, or the United States, or even ... the United Kingdom.

"I think what people can see is that this is a classic Russian strategy of trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation."

"I have been very heartened already by the strength of the support that the UK is getting"

Foreign Secretary @BorisJohnson is discussing the incident in Salisbury with European partners. pic.twitter.com/8OYbkHdVAL

-- Foreign Office ?? (@foreignoffice) March 19, 2018

Mrs May, speaking during a visit to Birmingham, said: "I'm clear that what we have seen shows that there is no other conclusion but that the Russian state is culpable for what happened on the streets
of Salisbury."

Following reports around the possible exhumation of bodies of other Russians who died in suspicious circumstances, she added that it is a "matter for the police as to whether they feel that there
are any previous cases that need to be investigated further".

In a joint statement, the Foreign Affairs Council said the European Union "takes extremely seriously the UK Government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible".

The statement added: "The Union calls on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW."

The move came as Russia's Tass news agency reported the Kremlin is insisting the UK either backs up its "unfounded allegations" regarding Moscow's involvement in the Salisbury attack, or apologises.

Tass quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying: "Sooner or later they will have to be responsible for these allegations: they will either have to provide some evidence or apologise."

Mr Putin dismissed claims of Russia being behind the poisoning as "nonsense" as he was re-elected president.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia would have died instantly if they had been attacked with a nerve agent, the leader said as he celebrated the start of another six-year term.

Mr Putin, who secured a fourth term amid widespread claims of electoral fraud, said he learned about the "tragedy" from the media.

"The first thing that comes to my mind is that should it really be a warfare agent, people would have died instantly," he said.

"It is an obvious fact. Russia does not possess such agents. We have destroyed all our chemical arsenals under control of international observers."

He added: "We are ready for co-operation and said that immediately. We are ready to take part in all necessary probes but the will of the other side is needed for that. So far, we see none."

Fire crews sheet off an area on Larkhill Road in Durrington, Salisbury (Ben Birchall/PA)
Fire crews sheet off an area on Larkhill Road in Durrington, Salisbury (Ben Birchall/PA)

Moscow mocked the UK, claiming the Government's response had fuelled an increase in support for Mr Putin in the election.

The national security council will meet in the coming days to discuss Moscow's tit-for-tat response to the UK's expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.

Mr Johnson is also holding talks with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg on Monday.

Mr Skripal, a former double agent, and his daughter may have been exposed to a deadly nerve agent through his car's ventilation system, US media has reported.

The pair are still fighting for their lives after being exposed to Novichok two weeks ago in the Wiltshire city.

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