After former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were exposed to the A-234 nerve agent (also known as ‘Novichok’) in Salisbury, UK Prime Minister Theresa May blamed Russia. Britain said it was “highly likely” to be a Kremlin-backed act of aggression, despite repeated denials from Moscow.
A draft text from EU talks on the matter has emerged condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the attacks. The phrase was added to the draft text that EU leaders will discuss at a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, which was obtained by Politico.
However, the question of attribution was not changed. The UK has been pushing for the Kremlin to be recognized as the perpetrator. Yet, its allies in Brussels appear to be refusing to cast judgment ahead of the evidence, unlike Downing Street.
The text says: “The EU takes extremely seriously the UK Government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible. The European Union is shocked at the offensive use of any military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, for the first time on European soil in over 70 years. The use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is completely unacceptable and constitutes a security threat to us all. The Union calls on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW.”
spot the difference
Diplomats familiar with talks said Greece and Italy did not want the language changed. “They say that there’s no smoking gun, or at least not yet,” said an EU diplomat to Politico. Greece has denied calling for alterations but admitted it lobbied for a more “clear” text.
Theresa May’s team has been hoping for unequivocal world backing, but has not received it. She expelled 23 Russian diplomats from London last week, and has threatened further punishment.
The UK said it was not a snub by Brussels that the language is cooler than last week, especially that used by Germany and France, but said getting 27 countries to agree is difficult. It is especially damaging for Theresa May after President Putin was praised by Trump in a call after his re-election on Sunday, despite her hopes the special friendship between the UK and the US would see Trump backing her fully.
Jean-Claude Juncker also upset the UK after sending a congratulatory letter to Putin. EU leaders will discuss the new text over dinner at the European Council summit Thursday. Despite Britain’s allegations against Moscow, Russia has repeatedly insisted that the Kremlin had nothing to do with the attack on former double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the UK PM’s allegations, saying it was “nonsense and absurd to claim that Russia would do anything like that before the elections and the World Cup.”