Thursday 16 August 2018

Johnson demands answers from Kremlin as Novichok confirmed in spy poisoning

Yulia Skripal: She and her father Sergei were poisoned with a highly pure strain of Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury, according to analysts. Photo: AP
Yulia Skripal: She and her father Sergei were poisoned with a highly pure strain of Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury, according to analysts. Photo: AP

Steven Swinford

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson has said the Kremlin "must give answers" after an international watchdog confirmed Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a "high purity" strain of Novichok nerve agent in Salisbury.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had been able to "confirm" the findings of British scientists about the nerve agent.

Sergei Skripal
Sergei Skripal

It represents a significant boost to UK Prime Minister Theresa May, who has said Russia was directly responsible for the attack.

Mr Johnson said that only Russia has the "means, motive and record" to have carried out the attack.

"We will now work tirelessly with our partners to help stamp out the grotesque use of weapons is this kind," he said.

"The Kremlin must give answers. We must, as a world community, stand up for the rules-based order which keeps us all safe.

"The use of weapons of this kind can never be justified and must be ended."

The OPCW conducted tests on blood samples from the Skripals and an analysis on samples of the agent found in Salisbury.

The team also took samples from police officer Det Sgt Nicholas Bailey, who was poisoned after coming into contact with the agent while assisting the Skripals.

The report states: "The results of analysis of biomedical samples conducted by OPCW designated laboratories demonstrate the exposure of the three hospitalised individuals to this toxic chemical.

"The results of the analysis of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirm the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury and severely injured three people."

The team notes the toxic chemical was of "high purity".

British scientists have suggested that only a foreign state would have been capable of producing the nerve agent.

It comes as Ms Skripal revealed she has rejected assistance from the Russian embassy, adding: "I want to stress that no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves."

The 33-year-old said she has found herself in a "totally different life" as she continues to recover from the attack.

The Russian embassy in London said that it doubted the authenticity of the statement and suggested it had been crafted to support Britain's version of events.

It is believed British authorities immediately spirited Ms Skripal away to a secure location when she was discharged from hospital earlier this week.

The Russian embassy reacted angrily, suggesting in a series of tweets that the Russian national had been taken against her will.

The Kremlin has repeatedly attempted to challenge Britain's claims it was responsible for the poisoning of the Skripals.

The embassy said it was perturbed by a refusal by the UK authorities to grant Ms Skripal's cousin Viktoria a visa to visit her family.

It escalated the war of words, saying in a series of statements posted on social media: "Secret resettlement of Mr and Ms Skripal, barred from any contact with their family will be seen as an abduction or at least as their forced isolation."

But Ms Skripal said in a statement: "I have specially trained officers available to me, who are helping to take care of me and to explain the investigative processes that are being undertaken.

"I have access to friends and family, and I have been made aware of my specific contacts at the Russian embassy who have kindly offered me their assistance in any way they can.

"At the moment I do not wish to avail myself of their services, but if I change my mind I know how to contact them.

"Most importantly, I am safe and feeling better as time goes by, but I am not yet strong enough to give a full interview to the media, as I one day hope to do.

"Until that time, I want to stress that no one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves.

"I thank my cousin Viktoria for her concern for us, but ask that she does not visit me or try to contact me for the time being. Her opinions and assertions are not mine and they are not my father's."

The embassy later said the statement "raises new questions rather than gives answers" as it was unable to verify it.

"The text has been composed in a special way so as to support official statements made by British authorities and at the same time to exclude every possibility of Yulia's contacts with the outer world - consuls, journalists and even relatives," the embassy said in a statement.

"The document only strengthens suspicions that we are dealing with a forcible isolation of the Russian citizen."

Mrs May has said UK military experts at Porton Down found that they were poisoned by Novichok, a nerve agent developed by Russia, and that the only plausible explanation was that the Russian state was responsible.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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