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British police continue to investigate an attempt on the life of former spy Sergei Skripal British police continue to investigate an attempt on the life of former spy Sergei Skripal  (AFP or licensors)

Russia demands nerve gas samples after spy poisoning in Britain

Russia says it will only cooperate with Britain on the investigation into last week's poisoning of an ex-Russian spy if it receives samples of the nerve agent allegedly used in the attack.

By Stefan J. Bos

Russia's Foreign Ministry reportedly summoned the British ambassador in Moscow on Tuesday after Britain took similar steps following an attack that left 66-year-old Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia in critical condition.

Explanation demanded
 

Britain demands an explanation from Moscow for the use of a military-grade nerve agent produced in Russia against the ex-spy and his daughter in the small English city of Salisbury. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters that Moscow's requests to see samples of the nerve agent as a condition for its cooperation in the investigation had been turned down. He called that a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws the production of chemical weapons.

He insisted that Russia is "not to blame" for last week's poisoning of the former spy and his daughter. Lavrov also condemned the British government for setting a Tuesday midnight deadline for Moscow to respond to the accusations.  

Minister Lavrov explained that Moscow is willing to cooperate with the probe but suggested that London would be "better off" complying with its international obligations "before putting forward ultimatums." He added that "colonialism is a thing of the past."

But British Prime Minister Theresa May says Russia's involvement is highly likely. "Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia's record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal," May told legislators.

Sanctions expected
 

Officials announced Tuesday that Prime Minister May is reviewing a range of economic and diplomatic measures against Russia in retaliation for the assault with the military-grade nerve agent.

The case echoed the 2006 killing of another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, a Kremlin critic who was poisoned and killed in London with radioactive polonium-210. A British inquiry found that Russia was responsible for the murder of Litvinenko and that President Vladimir Putin probably approved it.

The European Union shares British concerns about these developments. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said Tuesday that Europe cannot allow the use of nerve gas in its societies and that these attacks should be addressed, by everyone.

Timmerman's appeal seemed a show of solidarity amid tense negotiations on Britain's departure from the EU next year.

The French and British foreign ministers also discussed the poisoning. France said it wanted to show solidarity with "a top and strategically important ally" and called the use of a nerve agent attack in Britain "a totally unacceptable attack."The French and British foreigners ministers also discussed the poisoning. France said it wanted to show solidarity with "a top and strategically important ally" and called the use of a nerve agent attack in Britain "a totally unacceptable attack."

Listen to Stefan Bos' report
13 March 2018, 17:49