UK Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed Monday that Russia was “highly likely” behind the poisoning of 66-year-old Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal, saying the evidence is indicating that the Kremlin the unlawful used unlawful force on British territory.
“Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others,” said May during her address to parliament on Monday.
The British government has summoned the Russian Ambassador for an explanation and gave the Kremlin until Tuesday to explain its Novichock nerve agent programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Novichock, or “newcomer” in Russian, is 8-to-10 times more toxic than VX, which can kill a person in less than two minutes. This class of nerve agent is believed to have been developed to evade NATO detection systems and avoid the Chemical Weapons Convention list of controlled precursors. One of the known variants of Novichok is known to have been approved for use by the Russian Armed Forces as a chemical weapon.
In the 1990s, the United States helped Uzbekistan dismantle and decontaminate the facility where Novichok had been developed during the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, at the height of Moscow’s bio-toxic and biochemical warfare programme.
Russia has categorically denied any involvement in the attack against Skripal. The spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, called May’s speech “a circus show,” the Kremlin-controlled state news agency TASS reported.
Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury’s city centre on March 4. They remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital.
The Russian government convicted Skripal of passing secrets to Britain’s MI6 intelligence services in 2004, but was given refuge in the UK six years later after he was included in a “spy swap”.
In 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin legalised the extra-judicial killing of individuals abroad who Moscow accuses of “extremism”.