Russia calls UN meeting in effort to undermine UK over nerve agent attack
Russia has called a United Nations Security Council meeting for Thursday as it seeks to undermine Britain’s case that it was responsible for the poisoning of a Russian former spy.
Moscow, emboldened after the UK was forced to withdraw a claim that its scientists had pinned the blame on Russia for the attack, will attempt to further embarrass Britain in front of its international allies. A month after former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the English city of Salisbury, the United Kingdom and Russia remain locked in a battle over who is to blame.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said it was “highly likely” the attack was ordered by the Russian government. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the accusation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that the affair was a “pretext” for the expulsion of Russian diplomats around the world.
On Wednesday, Moscow failed in its efforts to persuade the chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to allow a joint UK-Russia investigation into the attack. The OPCW is already carrying out an independent investigation at the UK’s request, and expects to receive the results of its analysis within a week. Britain is also carrying out its own inquiry, with support from the OPCW.
Attention will now turn to the United Nations. It will be the second time the Security Council has discussed the poisoning — at a previous meeting on March 15, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley blasted the Russian government for the attack and called for a firm international response.
Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain in Salisbury District Hospital following the attack on March 4. Sergei Skripal is described as in a critical but stable condition.
Yulia Skripal announced Thursday that she had woken up “over a week ago” and that her “strength is growing daily.”
“I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received,” Skripal said in a statement released on her behalf by London’s Metropolitan Police. “I have many people to thank for my recovery and would especially like to mention the people of Salisbury that came to my aid when my father and I were incapacitated. Further than that, I would like to thank the staff at Salisbury District Hospital for their care and professionalism,” she said.
“I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you’ll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence,” she added.
A Russian state TV station reported Thursday that Viktoria Skripal, the cousin of Yulia Skripal, claimed to have spoken to Yulia by phone. UK experts believe the Skripals were poisoned with a Russian-made nerve agent, Novichok. The Times of London, citing unnamed sources, reported on Thursday that UK security services had pinpointed the location of the Russian laboratory that manufactured the nerve agent.
Putin: Common sense must prevail
On Wednesday, speaking at a trilateral summit with Turkey and Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters he wanted to see “a healthy political process” based on international law.
“We are not expecting anything but common sense to prevail; international relations will not tolerate the recent damage done,” he said.
The UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats in the wake of the attack, sparking a wave of similar moves by UK allies around the world. The US expelled 60 Russian diplomats as part of the international effort. Moscow responded by kicking out diplomats from at least 23 countries, including 60 American diplomats.
It also ordered the closure of the US consulate in St. Petersburg. Lavrov said Thursday that Russia wants “to find the truth” about the poisoning in Salisbury and that “provocations are being arranged” in the Skripal case to demonize Russia.
He claimed that many countries had been pressured into supporting the UK and described the mass expulsion of Russian diplomats as “an open mocking of diplomatic ethics” that had not been seen for a long time.
Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Alexander Yakovenko told a news conference Thursday that Russia has “no information about Yulia Skripal, we don’t know about Sergei.”
Speaking to reporters at the Russian Embassy in London, Yakovenko said Yulia’s cousin Viktoria was “waiting for the visa in Moscow, a British visa. We will see what will be the outcome of that visit.”
He repeated Russia’s complaint that Britain is not allowing it access to its citizens, Sergei and Yulia Skripal, or to the British investigation into their poisoning. The UK government must be “transparent” about the evidence, he said.
Yakovenko said Russia would accept the result of the OPCW investigation — but suggested that its validity would depend on which nations’ experts were involved. “These results should be confirmed by the international community, so we want to see who are the experts,” he said.
Questions around nerve agent’s source
Questions continue to dog the investigation into the attack on the Skripals, who were found slumped on a bench at an outdoor shopping complex in Salisbury. UK police believe they came into contact with the military-grade nerve agent on Skripal’s front door. On Tuesday, UK scientists said that while they had identified the nerve agent as Novichok, they were unable to say exactly where it had been manufactured.
“We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to government, who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to,” Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of the UK government laboratory at Porton Down, told Sky News on Tuesday.
Further complicating the picture, the UK Foreign Office confirmed on Wednesday it had deleted a tweet that claimed that British chemical weapons experts believed Russia had produced the nerve agent. The Foreign Office said the tweet was “truncated and did not accurately report” a briefing by the British ambassador to Moscow last month.
The British government says the scientific analysis from Porton Down forms only part of the picture. It insists that only Russia had the capability to carry out the attack, that Moscow had identified former double agents as legitimate targets, and was known for its involvement in state-sponsored attacks in the past.
In its report on Thursday, the Times of London cited security sources claiming that the location for the manufacture of the Novichok had been identified “using scientific analysis and intelligence in the days after the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal a month ago.”
The Times said security sources didn’t have “100% certainty” but there was a high degree of confidence in the location. The UK government had known about the facility’s existence before the attack on March 4, it added.
The UK Foreign Office refused to comment on The Times’ report. “We have nothing more to add to that story,” a spokesman told CNN.