Britain says spy attack driven by Russian vote, London's criticism

Police officers prepare equipment as inspectors from the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons begin work at the scene of the nerve agent attack.
Police officers prepare equipment as inspectors from the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons begin work at the scene of the nerve agent attack.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Moscow on Wednesday (March 21) of trying to kill a former spy in England to whip up public opinion ahead of elections.

He said the Kremlin targeted the country due to London's criticism of Russian rights abuses.

Giving evidence to MPs, Johnson rejected Moscow's insistence that it was not involved in the nerve agent attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4.

"No matter how exactly it came to be done, the pathway, the chain of responsibility seems to me to go back to the Russian state and those at the top," he told the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.

Asked why Moscow would feel it could carry out such an attack, he said: "It was a sign that President (Vladimir) Putin, or the Russian state, wanted to give to potential defectors in their own agencies that this is what happens to you if you decide that you support a country with a different set of values such as our own (Britain): you can expect to be assassinated.

"I think the reason that they picked the United Kingdom is very simple: it's because this is a country that does have that particular set of values, it does believe in freedom, and in democracy and in the rule of law, and has time and again called out Russia over its abuses of those values."

He added that in response to Russian actions in the Western Balkans, the Baltics and Syria, whether in the European Union or United Nations "it is Britain that has been most forthright, and most obstinate in sticking up for our values".

"And I think that is probably the reason why it was decided to make this gesture here in this country," he said.

Questioned about the timing of the attack, Johnson pointed to last weekend's presidential elections, in which Putin won a fourth term.

"As many non-democratic figures do when facing an election or facing some critical political moment, it is often attractive to conjure up in the public imagination the notion of an enemy," he said.

"And that is what it was an attempt to excite among the Russian electorate."

Johnson added: "The boundaries of Moscow's dominions have been rolled back and I think Vladimir Putin feels that very keenly and he feels Russia lost out, so he wants to cause trouble wherever he can."