Putin aide in Cold War warning as UK likened to 'hapless inspector'
The Sergei Skripal affair has plunged the confrontation between Britain and Russia into a realm of "insanity" that is more dangerous than the Cold War, one of Vladimir Putin's foreign policy spokesmen has said.
Evgenny Primakov Jr, a designated "trusted representative" of Mr Putin authorised to speak on behalf of his campaign during the Russian presidential election, called British allegations that Russia was involved in the attempted murder of Mr Skripal "nonsense".
He warned that UK-Russian relations would struggle to recover from the current crisis and urged both sides to "make a step backwards and calm down a bit".
Mr Primakov was speaking shortly before Theresa May laid out a series of retaliatory measures including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, suspension of all high-level official and diplomatic contact with Moscow, and a crackdown on flows of suspicious wealth through London.
"The British government should be aware we are going to answer to that. I've no idea how, it is still being decided. But there will be an answer," he said of the proposed measures.
The warning came as Russia compared the British government to Inspector LeStrade, a "hapless" investigator from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Sherlock Holmes' stories, as it denied responsibility for the poisoning of Mr Skripal.
The bizarre comments were made by Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian permanent representative to the UN, who also suggested the UK or others could have tried to kill Mr Skripal in act of "black PR" designed to "tarnish Russia".
In heated exchanges at the Security Council, Russia strongly denied it was involved in the Salisbury incident, and the US offered Britain its full support.
In a lengthy address to the UN Security Council, Mr Nebenzya said: "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the British classic, famed in his country and very popular in Russia, has a hapless character, Inspector LeStrade from Scotland Yard.
"He doesn't have the methods of deduction, he is not particularly smart. His role is to be the background for the extraordinary deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes."
Revealing the gulf of comprehension between London and Moscow, Mr Primakov said he believed Mr Skripal, a former Russian serviceman who had spied for Britain, had been attacked by US or British secret services in an attempt to discredit this Sunday's Russian presidential election.
"Frankly, in Moscow we are in shock. The whole thing looks insane. No one here believes this was a Russian attack," he said via telephone from Moscow.
"We are absolutely sure, 100pc sure, that the whole thing is aimed at our elections. In my personal opinion, I'm absolutely sure Sergei Skripal was poisoned by the British or American secret services," he added.
"The idea is to make our election look illegitimate. [For Russia] to commit such a thing a week before the presidential election is insane.
"And when we try to explain our position we are told, 'Russia is an evil empire and you do it deliberately because you do it'."
Mr Primakov's comments will be given short shrift in Whitehall, where officials have long been frustrated by transparently false Russian denials over other issues, including the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, which Scotland Yard believes was "probably" ordered by Mr Putin himself, and the 2014 annexation of Crimea, when the Russian president claimed Russian soldiers were "local volunteers".
Mr Putin later admitted that the "little green men" were Russian forces. But his government continues to publicly deny military involvement in east Ukraine and the shoot down of the MH17 airliner, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (© Daily Telegraph, London)