British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson claims it is “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a nerve agent attack against a former Russian spy in southern England.
“We have nothing against the Russians themselves. There is to be no Russophobia as a result of what is happening,” Johnson told reporters during a museum visit in west London on Friday.
“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision – and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision – to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War,” Johnson said.
Britain’s top diplomat said a day earlier that the UK would allow for an independent international examination of the nerve agent.
On March 7, British authorities announced that former spy Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, had been hospitalized after being found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in the city of Salisbury.
British police attributed the critical illness of the two to a nerve agent developed by the former Soviet Union, and British Prime Minister Theresa May accused Moscow of being responsible.
Russia has denied any involvement, insisting that it was ready to assist in the investigation provided that Moscow would be granted access to the case materials including samples of the substance used in the Skripal’s poisoning. London has rejected the request.
Boris in his former east end role as a London Clown
Britain’s claim Putin ordered ex-spy poisoning ‘unforgiveable’
In a swift response to Johnson’s comments on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said accusations that the President Putin was involved in the nerve agent attack were “shocking and unforgiveable.”
“Any reference or mention of our president in this regard is a shocking and unforgivable breach of diplomatic rules of decent behavior,” Peskov said. “Russia has nothing to do with this story.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Moscow was considering “retaliatory measures” against London and would divulge them in the near future.
May announced on Wednesday plans to expel 23 Russian diplomats in the wake of the attack.
May also announced a range of economic and diplomatic measures, including a decision to cancel all high-level bilateral contacts with Moscow.
Skripal was found guilty by a Russian tribunal of selling classified information to the UK’s spy agency MI6 and was imprisoned in Russia in 2006. He was exchanged in a spy swap in 2010.
Britain’s National counter-terrorism police have taken over the investigation on the alleged attack and are treating the case as attempted murder.
UK media reports have likened the alleged poisoning to the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, another Russian agent who was killed in Britain in 2006 with radioactive material that was purportedly put in his cup of tea by Russian agents.