Russian proposal for joint Salisbury toxin inquiry ‘perverse’: Britain

Police officers guard the cordoned off area around the home of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, Britain, April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

By Anthony Deutsch

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Russia’s proposal for a joint inquiry into the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England is a “perverse” attempt to escape blame, Britain told an emergency meeting on Wednesday of the global chemical weapons watchdog.

Moscow convened the watchdog’s decision-making executive to counter accusations by Britain that it was behind the March 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a military-grade nerve toxin in the English city of Salisbury.

In a tweet, the British delegation said Moscow’s idea was “perverse…, a diversionary tactic, and yet more disinformation designed to evade the questions the Russians authorities must answer”.

John Foggo, Britain’s acting envoy to the OPCW, said Russian assertions that the attack may have been carried out by Britain, the United States or Sweden were “shameless, preposterous statements…

“It seems clear that Russia will never accept the legitimacy of any investigation into chemical weapons use unless it comes up with an answer Russia likes,” Foggo said in a statement to the closed-door meeting.

The European Union also dismissed the proposal and diplomats said it was unlikely to be approved by the required two-thirds majority of the 41-nation executive of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ executive.

Russia said it had the support of 14 countries. “We believe it is crucial to ensure this problem be resolved within the legal framework using the entire potential of the OPCW,” Russia’s representative to the watchdog, Aleksandr Shulgin, was quoted by the Russian news agency TASS as telling the meeting.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday the OPCW should draw a line under a case that has triggered the worst crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War, with retaliatory, tit-for-tat expulsions of scores of diplomats. [

Scientists at the Porton Down biological and chemical weapons laboratory in England have concluded that the toxin was among a category of Soviet-era nerve agents called Novichok, though could not yet determine whether it was made in Russia.


Moscow denies any involvement in the attack and accuses Britain of whipping up anti-Russian hysteria in the West.

The OPCW, which oversees the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, has taken samples from the site of the Salisbury attack and is expected to provide results from testing at two designated laboratories next week.

Shulgin said earlier that if Moscow was prevented from taking part in the testing of the Salisbury toxin samples, it would reject the outcome of the OPCW research.

Diplomats said Russia’s proposal for a second investigation would not pass the OPCW’s executive council whose members are elected by the OPCW’s 192 member states and include major powers such as Russia, Britain and the United States.

Russia’s request to open a parallel, joint Russian-British inquiry is seen by Western powers as an attempt to undermine the ongoing investigation by OPCW scientists.

The EU said it was very concerned Moscow was considering rejecting the OPCW findings.

“It is imperative that the Russian Federation responds to the British government’s legitimate questions, begins to cooperate with the OPCW Secretariat and provides full and complete disclosure to the OPCW of any programme with relevance to the case,” said an EU statement read to the council session.

Instead of cooperating with the OPCW, the EU statement said, Russia had unleashed “a flood of insinuations targeting EU member states…This is completely unacceptable.”

Skripal remains in critical but stable condition, while his daughter has shown signs of improvement.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Sparks fly in Moscow as Russia and Britain trade accusations over spy poisoning

FILE PHOTO - Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov speaks on the phone before a session of the Council of Heads of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Sochi, Russia October 11, 2017.

By Andrew Osborn and Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Britain accused Moscow on Wednesday of running an assassination program to eliminate its enemies, while Russia said Britain may itself have orchestrated the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England.

In remarkable scenes at a Russian Foreign Ministry event in Moscow attended by dozens of foreign diplomats and broadcast on state TV, the two sides launched sharp allegations against each other over the nerve agent attack.

The attack in Salisbury, England, has plunged ties between London and Moscow into their worst crisis since the Cold War. Britain has blamed Russia for the attack – something Moscow denies – and both have expelled diplomats in the standoff.

Russia had organized Wednesday’s event to explain its stance and lost little time in alleging that Britain itself had either directly or indirectly orchestrated the attack or had allowed “a terrorist attack” to take place on British soil.

“Nobody understands what happened in Salisbury,” Vladimir Yermakov, a diplomat who chaired the event, told foreign diplomats. “Let’s investigate what really happened.”

His own view, he said, was that the poisoning had been a pre-planned action designed to harm Russia.

Emma Nottingham, a British diplomat, countered that London had concluded it was “highly likely” that Moscow stood behind the attempted assassination of the Skripals for four reasons:

“The identification of the chemical agent by our world leading scientists, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent … Russia’s record in conducting state-sponsored assassinations … and our assessment that Russia views defectors as legitimate targets.”

Many ambassadors including those of Britain, France, Germany and the United States, stayed away from the Moscow event, sending more junior officials instead.

But key Western countries criticized Russia and offered Britain their support. Some others, including Sweden and the Czech Republic, publicly complained about Russian accusations that their countries might have been the origin of the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack.

Skripal, a former colonel in Russian GRU military intelligence who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence, and his daughter Yulia have been critically ill since March 4, when they were found unconscious on a public bench in the English cathedral city.

Skripal took refuge in England after being released by Moscow in a spy swap deal involving the exchange of some Russian spies held in the West.


Britain says a military-grade nerve agent called Novichok, first developed by the Soviet Union, had been used in the attack.

But Nottingham said Russia had failed to explain how the nerve agent used in the attack had got from Russia to England and why it was running an illegal chemical weapons program.

“Instead, what we’ve seen is a barrage of distortion and disinformation … and attempts to confuse the facts.”

Yermakov said Russia did not understand what was going in British officials’ heads. Talk of the Novichok nerve agent was like something out of a British TV series, he said.

“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself ?,” Yermakov asked Nottingham. “Pull yourselves away a little bit from your Russophobia and your island mentality.”

He said Moscow had nothing to do with the tragedy and wanted a wider investigation which, he said, meant London should share information and cooperate with Moscow.

Speaking on a visit to Japan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia wanted Britain to tell it where the Skripals were currently located.

Lavrov said Moscow also wanted to know why the British government had accused Russia of responsibility when the police investigation into the Salisbury incident was incomplete.

“Overall there is no doubt that the current British leadership has consciously taken a course to undermine Russian-British relations,” Lavrov said at a news conference with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono in Tokyo, according to a transcript on the Russian foreign ministry website.

“If this will continue in the form of any tangible new anti-Russian actions then of course nobody has canceled the principle of reciprocity. It would be good for everyone and for (the British government) if they stopped getting agitated and calmed down.”

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk; Editing by Richard Balmforth)