By Stefan J. Bos
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has now made the most direct accusation against Russia's leader over a chemical attack that shocked the Western world.
He said Friday it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally gave the order to use a nerve agent against ex-spy
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury, earlier this month.
The Kremlin was quick to call Johnson’s comments “shocking and unforgivable”.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who visited the scene of the attack in Salisbury Thursday, blamed Russia in more general terms. "We will not tolerate the threat to life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian Government," she told legislators this week.
May also said 23 Russian diplomats must leave Britain and that the government is halting high-level talks.
Britain secured the backing of the leaders of the United States, France, and Germany who said in a statement there was “no plausible alternative explanation” to Russia being to blame for the attack.
The head of the NATO military alliance added that Russia underestimated the "resolve and unity" of Britain's allies.
But on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman warned Britain to expect a Russian response "shortly," and he accused the British government of violating international law and "common sense."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov already confirmed that Moscow planned to expel British diplomats in retaliation for Britain's punitive actions.
The standoff has underscored international concern that geopolitical tensions are mounting to levels not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russian-Western relations were already straining over Russia's involvements in conflicts in Syria and Ukraine as well as its alleged meddling in the US presidential election.
The latest international tensions over the nerve agent attack also threaten to overshadow Russian President Putin's expected re-election Sunday for another six-year term