Wednesday 20 November 2019

May boosted by joint statement blaming Russia

Row-back: Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Reuters
Row-back: Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Reuters

Kate McCann

The leaders of France, Germany, the US and the UK have issued a joint statement blaming Russia for the nerve agent attack in England, as Moscow said it will expel British diplomats in retaliation for Theresa May's action against the Kremlin.

Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump - the leaders of three of the UK's most important allies - said they agreed with the British prime minister's assessment that there was "no plausible alternative explanation" for the attack.

The joint statement represents a major boost for Mrs May and came one day after she moved to expel 23 Russian diplomats and suspended high-level contact with Moscow in response to the Salisbury incident in southern England.

The statement, issued by Downing Street, said: "The United Kingdom briefed thoroughly its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack.

"We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack."

The statement was issued as Mrs May visited the scene of the attack in Salisbury.

Speaking as she met emergency services, Mrs May said: "We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen and despicable act that has taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city."

Meanwhile, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister who Mrs May said would be barred from coming to the UK, said the British government's response was prompted by Brexit as he branded the measures "absolutely boorish".

Russia has repeatedly denied it is responsible for the attack, which left former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in a critical condition in hospital.

But Boris Johnson, the UK foreign secretary, who met Mr Lavrov in December last year, accused Russia of seeking to deny responsibility while taking "glory in it".

Speaking at the United Nations meeting last night, the Russian representative said his country had never made or researched how to make the specific nerve agent involved.

It followed a claim made by British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's spokesman Seumas Milne that the Novichok nerve agent could have got into "random hands" after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Asked at a forum whether Russia would expel British diplomats, Mr Lavrov said "definitely", state news agency RIA Novosti reported. Asked when this would occur, he said "soon".

It came as France rowed back after failing to condemn the Kremlin's actions on Wednesday night, despite Mrs May's announcement that Russia was behind the breach of law.

President Macron phoned the British prime minister yesterday morning and expressed solidarity as he said France "shares the UK's conclusions" that Russia is responsible.

Previously a spokesman for Mr Macron called Mrs May's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats, thought to be undercover intelligence agents, "fantasy politics" and refused to publicly state who was to blame.

The decision prompted an international backlash as the former secretary general of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said that "anything short of full solidarity with the UK now would be seen as a victory by the Kremlin".

He added: "I don't think the Russians have given any convincing answers on how a Soviet-era nerve toxin ended up striking down a former double agent. Either the Russian government is directly responsible for this atrocity or they are responsible for the loss of security in Russia and in both cases it is a violation of international law."

Mr Johnson said the UK government is using powers to freeze assets but warned the UK will not act outside of the law in response to the attack. (© Daily Telegraph London)

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