Russia slams UK as EU ponders further steps in spy row

British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday received the support of other EU leaders in her case against Russia over a nerve agent attack.
British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday received the support of other EU leaders in her case against Russia over a nerve agent attack.PHOTO: REUTERS

Moscow says London forcing its allies to take confrontational steps against the Kremlin

MOSCOW • Russia yesterday accused Britain of trying to force London's allies to take "confrontational steps" after EU states decided to recall the bloc's envoy from Moscow and considered further diplomatic action over a nerve attack row.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed Britain for garnering European Union support over the poisoning of a former double agent, suggesting that London's focus was now on making "the crisis with Russia as deep as possible".

At a summit in Brussels, EU leaders united behind British Prime Minister Theresa May in blaming Russia for the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England, and agreed to recall their ambassador to Moscow.

EU states are also considering whether to follow Britain's lead in expelling Russian diplomats and even take other steps.

"As for the decision taken, we regret in this context that again such decisions are taken using the wording 'highly likely' and judgments are based on this," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"We don't agree with this and we repeat again that Russia absolutely definitely has nothing to do with the Skripal case."

Mr Peskov said Russia did not know what "precise information the British side used when it discussed the topic of the Skripals with its colleagues". Russia "unfortunately is not able to receive any information at all directly on the so-called Skripal case," he added.

 
 
 

Russia's top diplomat, Mr Lavrov, for his part slammed Britain, saying its top officials "are feverishly trying to force allies to take confrontational steps". "We still do not see any facts," state news agency RIA Novosti quoted him as saying on a visit to Hanoi.

"The absence of which makes one think that all of this is a provocation, the investigation has not even been finished yet."

Mrs May had pressed the importance of a united response to the March 4 poisoning and the 28 EU leaders at the summit in Brussels offered her their full support, agreeing "that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation".

The Kremlin has angrily rejected Britain's claims and Russian officials have offered numerous alternative explanations, including that London directed the attack itself and that Washington may have been involved. Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats it said were spies, and Russia responded in kind, also halting the activities of the British Council.

Earlier yesterday , British diplomats left their Moscow mission in several minibuses and the remaining diplomatic staff sent them off with a round of applause, RIA Novosti news agency reported.

More diplomatic staff could still be sent home, with several EU members considering expelling their own Russian diplomats.

Lithuania's outspoken President Dalia Grybauskaite said: "All of us, we are considering such measures."

A French presidency source said Paris was also ready to act: "Some countries, like France, are ready for possible measures to be decided at a national level in cooperation with other European countries."

The United States, France and Germany were first to back the conclusion that Moscow was to blame for the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II.

But Britain's efforts to win a tough line from all 28 EU members ran up against countries keen to protect their Kremlin ties, notably Greece and Italy.

The poisoning has heightened worries across Europe about Russian meddling - from repeated cyber attacks to what the EU has called an "orchestrated strategy" of disinformation aimed at destabilising the bloc.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2018, with the headline 'Russia slams UK as EU ponders further steps in spy row'. Print Edition | Subscribe