Wednesday 15 August 2018

Russia must pay for its actions - US security chief

Officials in biohazard suits investigate the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images
Officials in biohazard suits investigate the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Jack Maidment

Russia's confidence is growing, Donald Trump's outgoing national security adviser has warned, as Moscow took its complaints over being blamed for the Salisbury spy attack to The Hague.

HR McMaster, who was ousted by the US president in March and will leave his post later this month, said "for too long some nations have looked the other way" and not done enough to combat Kremlin-backed "subversion and espionage".

He said the US and its allies had "failed to impose sufficient costs" on Russia to make it change tack.

His intervention, widely seen as a parting shot at Mr Trump, who has appointed John Bolton as Mr McMaster's replacement, came ahead of an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The meeting was called by Russia to "address the situation around allegations of non-compliance" with the chemical weapons convention made by the UK against Moscow in relation to the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The British government and an international coalition of its allies have blamed Russia for the March 4 attack but the Kremlin has firmly denied the accusation.

US National security adviser H.R. McMaster. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
US National security adviser H.R. McMaster. Photo: Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

The meeting in the Netherlands came a day after British Prime Minister Theresa May insisted Russia was responsible despite scientists disclosing they had not been able to determine where the nerve agent used was made.

Gary Aitkenhead, head of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, said that while his team had been unable to identify the "precise source" of the Novichok nerve agent, it was "probably only within the capabilities of a state actor". He made clear "it is not our job" to determine precisely where the nerve agent was manufactured but he said the work done at Porton Down formed part of the wider intelligence picture.

The UK government also stressed the analysis of the agent was only "one part of the intelligence picture", highlighting Russian research into delivering nerve agents to assassinate targets and its record of "state-sponsored assassinations".

The disclosure by Porton Down prompted calls for the British government to set out more of the evidence which led it to conclude Russia was responsible as Labour accused ministers of rushing to blame Moscow for the attack.

But the British government was given a boost as the European Union said in a statement to the OPCW that it had "full confidence" in the UK's Salisbury investigation. ​

The statement said: "The EU supports the UK decision to call on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW.

"The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemicals as weapons, by anyone, be it a state or a non-state actor, anywhere, and under any circumstances is abhorrent, illegal, and must be systematically and rigorously condemned. We have full confidence in the UK investigation and laud the UK's collaboration with the OPCW technical secretariat, in full compliance with the convention."

Mr McMaster used his last public remarks as national security adviser to warn that the response to Russian action had been insufficient. He said: "Russia employs sophisticated strategies deliberately designed to achieve objectives while falling below the target state's threshold for a military response. Tactics include infiltrating social media, spreading propaganda, weaponising information and using other forms of subversion and espionage.

"So for too long some nations have looked the other way in the face of these threats. ­Russia ­brazenly and implausibly ­denies its actions and we have failed to impose sufficient costs.

"The Kremlin's confidence is growing as its agents conduct their sustained campaigns to undermine our confidence in ourselves and in one another."

Russia was expected to ­present questions it wants answered in relation to the Salisbury spy attack during the session of the OPCW executive committee.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, said he hoped the meeting would "mark an end to what happened" as he repeated the Kremlin's demands that it be allowed access to the case materials of British investigators. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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