Chemical attack: 4 nations slam Russia

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday visits the area in Salisbury where Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday visits the area in Salisbury where Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a nerve agent.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

In a joint statement, U.S., U.K., France, ans Germany say the assault is a breach of international law

Tensions between Russia and the West continued to ramp up as France, Germany, Britain and the U.S. jointly accused Russia of involvement in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in early March, which they said involved the first “offensive use” of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.

“It is an assault on U.K. sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of all of us,” they said in a joint statement on Thursday.

All four shared Britain’s assessment that it was “highly likely” that Russia was responsible for the attack, and condemned Russia’s failure to address the “legitimate” request by the U.K. government to explain whether and how a nerve agent developed under a Russian programme could have gotten into third party control.

That’s the only alternative to the Russian state’s direct involvement, they said.

The joint statement will be seen as a diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Theresa May who has been under pressure to show her diplomatic clout both across the Atlantic and within Europe. On Wednesday, France had initially avoided blaming Russia directly, saying it awaited evidence first, before joining in the wider response.

European Commission President Donald Tusk also joined in, expressing “full solidarity” with the British position “in the face of the brutal attack inspired, most likely, by Moscow”.

Lowest point

Relations between Britain and Russia have fallen to their lowest point since the Cold War, following the poisonings. Britain retaliated on Wednesday by announcing the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats (the largest expulsion since 1985 when Britain expelled 25), and the revocation of an invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to visit the country. It accused Russia of the “unlawful use of force”.

At an urgent meeting of the Security Council in New York on Wednesday, the U.S. joined Britain in condemning Russia, pledging to stand in “absolute solidarity with Great Britain”. The U.S.’ Nikey Haley warned that if immediate action were not taken, Salisbury would not be the last time that a chemical attack happened on Western soil. Novichok, the type of nerve agent, which Britain says was used in the attack could not have been manufactured by “non-state actors”, Britain’s Representative Jonathan Allen said. He attacked Russia’s initial response that Britain was not following the protocol of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Under the OPCW’s Convention, Britain has “the right to lead our response… we have not jumped to conclusions,” he said. Speaking on the BBC earlier on Thursday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said a sample of the nerve agent would be sent to the OPCW.

Russia’s UN envoy Vissaly Nebenzia accused Britain of attempting to tarnish Russia with falsehoods, “irresponsible statements,” and “threats to a sovereign state”. “We do not speak the language of ultimatums and we will not allow us to be spoken to in that way,” he added, accusing Britain of being “afraid of having a genuine professional discussion on the topic,” by choosing the Security Council rather than the OPCW to level its accusations.

Objective probe

China also declined to condemn Russia. “We hope that a comprehensive objective and impartial investigation could be conducted based on facts in accordance with evidence…,” said the Chinese envoy, who added conclusions reached had to stand the test of “facts and history”. Britain has updated its travel advice to its nationals, ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Russia, warning of the possibility of “anti-British sentiment or harassment”.

“Frankly Russia should go away, it should shut up,” Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said at a meeting on Thursday, when asked about Russia’s response so far.

The development comes amid divisions within Britain’s Labour Party on its recognition of Russia’s role. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn called the attack “an appalling act of violence” but said, “Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence.”

18 Labour MPs have signed an Early Day Motion (a means of drawing attention to an issue) “unequivocally” accepting the Russian state’s culpability and “fully” supporting the government response.

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Printable version | Jul 9, 2020 8:32:59 AM |

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