MOSCOW • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday demanded access to samples of a nerve agent that British investigators suspect is linked to Moscow in an attack against a former Russian double agent and his daughter.
Mr Lavrov also said Russia does not intend to comply with British Prime Minister Theresa May's demand for an official explanation of the use of the nerve agent, later identified as Novichok, believed to be developed by the former Soviet Union.
Mr Lavrov insisted that Russian experts should be able to examine the British evidence, but again denied Russian involvement in last week's attack. He claimed Britain has an obligation to share forensic data under the Convention for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
"This is all nonsense, we've got nothing to do with this," Mr Lavrov told reporters in Moscow yesterday. "Before issuing ultimatums to report to the British government within 24 hours, it would have been better to observe your obligations under international law."
On Monday, Mrs May challenged Russia to provide an explanation for the alleged use of the deadly nerve agent in the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the city of Salisbury. Both remain in a coma.
Mrs May claimed the chemical, which is believed to be unique to Russia, made Moscow's complicity "highly likely". She gave Russian President Vladimir Putin until midnight yesterday to respond to the charges or face retaliation.
Britain will not tolerate such a "brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil", she warned. Mrs May said Russia either engaged in a direct attack against Britain or lost control of the nerve agent it developed.
The British leader stopped short of announcing retaliatory actions, saying she would give Russia a chance to respond and would return to Parliament today with a plan for specific action.
The crisis over the attempted murder, just days before Sunday's elections in which Mr Putin is coasting towards a fourth term, threatens to further strain relations between Russia and the West.
Russia summoned British Ambassador Laurie Bristow following the allegations, Interfax reported.
Meanwhile, France yesterday expressed solidarity with Britain.
"The attempted assassination of two Russian nationals on March 4 in Salisbury with the use of a military-grade nerve agent is a totally unacceptable attack," Foreign Ministry spokesman Agnes Von der Muhll said in a statement.
The statement followed a telephone call between Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his British counterpart Boris Johnson.
The European Union is united in "unwavering" solidarity with Britain over the poisoning with a nerve agent on its soil, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said yesterday.
"It is of the utmost importance that those who are responsible for what has happened see very clearly that there is European solidarity - unequivocal, unwavering and very strong - so that those responsible are really punished for what they did," Mr Timmermans told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Mr Johnson said he was encouraged by the support from Britain's allies, and British Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced yesterday that the investigation was going well, adding that the police would provide an update later in the day.
Separately, in a letter responding to a query from the chairman of Parliament's Home Affairs Committee that was published yesterday, Ms Rudd said police and the security services would investigate allegations of Russian state involvement in a number of suspicious deaths over recent years in Britain.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG