Russia vows to retaliate if Britain imposes sanctions
Russian official says British should offer nerve agent samples.
MOSCOW — Russia vowed Tuesday to retaliate if Britain imposes sanctions in response to a suspected chemical attack on British soil and demanded access to samples of a nerve agent that British investigators say they have identified as Russian.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said Russia does not intend to comply with British Prime Minister Theresa May’s demand Monday for an official explanation of how a nerve agent identified as Novichok, which was developed by the former Soviet Union, allegedly came to be used in the poisoning attack in southern England that targeted a former Russian spy and his daughter.
Lavrov insisted that Russian experts should be able to examine the British evidence but again denied Russian involvement in last week’s attack.
May spoke with President Donald Trump about the incident Tuesday afternoon. She told him it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack,” according to a statement released by the British embassy.
“President Trump stated the United States stands in solidarity with its closest ally and is ready to provide any assistance the United Kingdom requests for its investigation,” the White House stated. “President Trump agreed with Prime Minister May that the government of the Russian Federation must provide unambiguous answers regarding how this chemical weapon, developed in Russia, came to be used in the United Kingdom.”
Earlier, though, the president had hedged on the issue of actual blame.
“We’re speaking with Theresa May today and, as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be,” he said when asked about it by reporters outside the White House. “It sounds to me like it would be Russia based on all of the evidence they have.”
Then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking to reporters en route to Washington from Africa, said the nerve agent “clearly came from Russia,” and he warned of consequences. Hours after Tillerson backed the British accusation, the White House announced Tuesday that he would be replaced as secretary of state by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
In Moscow, the foreign ministry said it presented the British ambassador with “a strong protest over the unfounded accusations leveled at Russia by British authorities” and stressed that “Moscow would not respond to London’s ultimatum until the Russian side is provided with samples of the chemical substance.”
And it promised that Russia would retaliate if sanctions are imposed. “Any threats will not remain unanswered,” the ministry said in a statement. “The British side should be aware of that.”
May said the use of Novichok, which is believed to be unique to Russia, made Moscow’s complicity in the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in the city of Salisbury, about 88 miles southwest of London, “highly likely.” Both remain comatose.
In a case they believe to be unrelated, British counter-terrosim police said Tuesday they are investigating the unexplained death of another Russian emigre, Nikolai Glushkov, 68, in London, whose body was found Monday. Glushkov had been an associate of the oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who had fallen afoul of Russia President Vladimir Putin and lived in exile in England until his death by strangulation in 2013.
In Moscow, Lavrov denied that Russia had anything to do with Skripal’s poisoning and reiterated Moscow’s willingness to cooperate if information related to the nature of the chemical agent was shared with Russia.
Lavrov said Britain has an obligation to share forensic data under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Russia also summoned the British ambassador, Laurie Bristow, after the allegations, Interfax reported.
“Before delivering ultimatums to report to the British government within 24 hours,” Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow, “it is better to comply with your own obligations under international law — in this case, the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.