Rus­sia scoffs at poi­son­ing claims

U.K. leader re­view­ing op­tions to re­tal­i­ate for at­tack on spy


LON­DON — Rus­sia on Tues­day dis­missed ac­cu­sa­tions of any in­volve­ment in the poi­son­ing of an ex-spy and his daugh­ter as “non­sense,” say­ing it will only co­op­er­ate with a Bri­tish in­ves­ti­ga­tion if it re­ceives sam­ples of the nerve agent be­lieved to have been used.

Po­lice, mean­while, said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of who poi­soned Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter, Yu­lia, will last many weeks and that they are not ready to iden­tify any per­sons of in­ter­est in the in­quiry. The fa­ther and daugh­ter re­main in crit­i­cal con­di­tion in a Sal­is­bury hos­pi­tal.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May said Rus­sia’s in­volve­ment is “highly likely,” and she gave the coun­try a dead­line of mid­night Tues­day to ex­plain its ac­tions in the case. She is re­view­ing a range of eco­nomic and diplo­matic mea­sures in re­tal­i­a­tion for the at­tack with what she iden­ti­fied as the mil­i­tary-grade nerve agent Novi­chok.

U.S. and Euro­pean of­fi­cials were quick to of­fer words of sup­port for Bri­tain, which will need the back­ing of its al­lies if any new sanc­tions are to have any im­pact.

Her Down­ing Street of­fice said she dis­cussed the Sal­is­bury in­ci­dent with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and that the U.S. was “with the U.K. all the way” in agree­ing that Rus­sia “must pro­vide unam­bigu­ous an­swers as to how this nerve agent came to be used.”

They also agreed on the need for “con­se­quences” for those who use “heinous weapons in fla­grant vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional norms,” the White House said.

While Trump ac­knowl­edged Rus­sia was likely to blame for the at­tack, he — like May’s Euro­pean al­lies — has so far stopped short of promis­ing to get in­volved, though he did say he would speak with May about the at­tack.

“It sounds to me like it was Rus­sia based on all the ev­i­dence they have,” Trump said as he left the White House on Tues­day morn­ing. “We’re go­ing to be speak­ing with Theresa May to­day and as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with that, we will con­demn Rus­sia or who­ever it may be.”

Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov told re­porters in Mos­cow that his coun­try’s re­quests to see sam­ples of the nerve agent have been turned down. He in­sisted that Rus­sia is “not to blame” for the poi­son­ing.

“We have al­ready made a state­ment to say this is non­sense,” he said. “We have noth­ing to do with this.”

The Rus­sian Em­bassy in Lon­don tweeted that it will not re­spond to the ul­ti­ma­tum with­out the sam­ples.

Rus­sian of­fi­cials and me­dia have re­sponded with a va­ri­ety of ac­cu­sa­tions against Bri­tain in re­cent days, in­clud­ing sug­ges­tions that it was seek­ing to in­flu­ence Sun­day’s elec­tion, which Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is ex­pected to win.

James Nixey, head of the Rus­sia pro­gram at the Chatham House think-tank, said May’s re­sponse must be more than sym­bolic.

“Will ac­tions meet with re­sponses which have real-world ef­fects?” he said. “Or are we go­ing to have more fudge?”

Con­ser­va­tive law­maker Tom Tu­gend­hat, chair­man of the House of Com­mons For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, said fi­nan­cial sanc­tions would be key to a strong re­sponse.

“Given that the regime is built on money — it’s ef­fec­tively a flow of money from the Rus­sian peo­ple to Putin and from Putin to his acolytes — money mat­ters,” he said.

“We have enor­mous amounts of con­trol of a lot of peo­ple’s as­sets through var­i­ous means, and I think it’s im­por­tant we ex­er­cise that,” Tu­gend­hat said. “If you get the right peo­ple and you freeze their as­sets, it can make a lot of dif­fer­ence.”

The cases of other Rus­sians who have died un­der mys­te­ri­ous cir­cum­stances also are be­ing raised. Bri­tish Home Sec­re­tary Am­ber Rudd said po­lice and the do­mes­tic se­cu­rity ser­vice will look into 14 deaths in Bri­tain that might be linked to Rus­sia.

“In the weeks to come, I will want to sat­isfy my­self that the al­le­ga­tions are noth­ing more than that,” Rudd said. “The po­lice and MI5 agree and will as­sist in that en­deavor.”

Buz­zFeed News re­ported in 2017 that 14 deaths in Bri­tain and the U.S. dat­ing to 2006 may have been linked to Rus­sia. Among them are prom­i­nent Putin crit­ics, in­clud­ing oli­garch Boris Bere­zovsky and whistle­blower Alexan­der Perepilichny.

The chief of the world’s chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog said that those re­spon­si­ble “must be held ac­count­able.”

In a speech Tues­day to the Ex­ec­u­tive Coun­cil of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, Di­rec­tor-Gen­eral Ah­met Uzumcu said U.K. For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son called him Mon­day evening to in­form him of the re­sults of in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“It is ex­tremely wor­ry­ing that chem­i­cal agents are still be­ing used to harm peo­ple. Those found re­spon­si­ble for this use must be held ac­count­able for their ac­tions,” he said.

Skri­pal, a for­mer Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, was con­victed of spy­ing for Bri­tain and then re­leased in a spy swap. He had been liv­ing un­der his own name in Sal­is­bury for eight years be­fore the at­tack with­out at­tract­ing any pub­lic at­ten­tion.

Po­lice are ap­peal­ing to the pub­lic to come for­ward if they saw Skri­pal and his daugh­ter driv­ing in his red BMW in the early af­ter­noon of March 4 in the city 90 miles south­west of Lon­don.

New coun­tert­er­ror­ism chief Neil Basu, who re­ferred to Skri­pal as a Bri­tish sub­ject and his daugh­ter as a Rus­sian na­tional, also said Sal­is­bury res­i­dents would see much po­lice ac­tiv­ity in the com­ing days and that they should not be alarmed.

About 38 peo­ple have been seen by medics in con­nec­tion with the case.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Mike Corder, Jill Law­less and Dan­ica Kirka of The As­so­ci­ated Press; and by Kitty Don­ald­son, Toluse Olorunnipa, Henry Meyer, Ed­ward Robin­son, Robert Hut­ton, Ilya Arkhipov, He­lene Fou­quet, Arne Delfs and Henry Meyer of Bloomberg News.


In­ves­ti­ga­tors in pro­tec­tive suits work Tues­day at the Malt­ings shop­ping cen­ter in Sal­is­bury, Eng­land, near where a nerve agent was used to poi­son for­mer spy Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter.



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