UK: Russia Stockpiling Nerve Agent 03/18 10:06
LONDON (AP) -- Britain's foreign minister said Sunday that he has evidence
Russia has been stockpiling a nerve agent in violation of international law
"very likely for the purposes of assassination."
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the trail of blame for the poisoning of
former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of
Salisbury "leads inexorably to the Kremlin."
His comment came after a Russian envoy suggested the toxin used to poison
the Skripals could have come from a U.K. lab.
Johnson told reporters that Britain has information that within the last 10
years, "the Russian state has been engaged in investigating the delivery of
such agents, Novichok agents ... very likely for the purposes of assassination."
He said "they have been producing and stockpiling Novichok, contrary to what
they have been saying."
Johnson said he will brief European Union foreign ministers on the case
Monday before meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.
He also said officials from the Netherlands-based Organization for the
Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would arrive Monday in Britain to take samples
of the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals.
Britain says it is Novichok, a class of powerful nerve agent developed in
the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War. Tests to independently verify
the British findings are expected to take at least two weeks, Britain's Foreign
Vladimir Chizhov, Moscow's EU ambassador, said Russia has no chemical
weapons stockpiles and was not behind the poisoning.
"Russia had nothing to do with it," Chizhov told the BBC.
Chizhov pointed out that the U.K. chemical weapons research facility, Porton
Down, is only eight miles (12 kilometers) from Salisbury, where Sergei Skripal
--- a former Russian intelligence officer convicted in his home country of
spying for Britain--- and his daughter were found on March 4. They remain in
Asked whether he was saying that Porton Down was responsible, Chizhov
replied: "I don't know."
The British government dismissed the ambassador's suggestion as "nonsense."
Johnson said it was "not the response of a country that really believed
itself to be innocent."
Britain and Russia have each expelled 23 diplomats, broken off high-level
contacts and taken other punitive steps in the escalating tit-for-tat dispute,
which clouded the run-up to Sunday's presidential election in Russia. President
Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win a fourth term.
Western powers see the poisoning of the Skripals as the latest sign of
increasingly aggressive Russian interference in foreign countries.
Johnson said Britain's National Security Council will meet this week to
discuss what further measures the country might take.
He said these could include "defending ourselves against cyber-attack, (and)
looking at any economic measures that could be taken against Russians who
corruptly obtained their wealth."
Opposition lawmakers are calling on the British government to clamp down on
the illicitly gained money of wealthy Russians in Britain. Critics say U.K.
authorities have been slow to investigate the origins of the wealth invested in
London's financial district and property market.
The spy dispute has sent U.K.-Russia relations to Cold War-levels of tension.
Russia's ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, called for "cooler
heads," telling the Mail on Sunday that the dispute is "escalating dangerously
and out of proportion."
But Russian presidential contender Ksenia Sobchak, a former TV star who is
the only candidate to openly criticize Putin, said blame did not lie entirely
"We don't have any improvements, everything is only getting worse," she
said. "And this will continue, because this is our foreign policy: very
aggressive and very unpleasant."