Boris Johnson claims that ‘the Russian denial’ is growing ‘increasingly absurd’
The Foreign Secretary stepped up his verbal attack on Russia as his European Union counterparts offered the UK “solidarity” over the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal with what British experts have identified as the Soviet-made nerve agent Novichok.
Arriving at a meeting with fellow EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Mr Johnson said: “The Russian denials grow increasingly absurd.
“At one time they say that they never made Novichok, and at another time they say they did make Novichok but all the stocks have been destroyed… but some of them have mysteriously escaped to Sweden, or the Czech Republic, or Slovakia, or the United States, or even… the United Kingdom.
“I think what people can see is that this is a classic Russian strategy of trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation.”
On Sunday, Mr Johnson accused Russia of having stockpiled Novichok for a decade, against international rules.
“But in his latest statement, newly re-elected President Vladimir Putin said a true “warfare agent” would have killed the Skripals instantly.
“Russia does not possess such agents. We have destroyed all our chemical arsenals under control of international observers,” he said.
Russia is accused of developing the nerve agent used to kill Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia
This is a classic Russian strategy of trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies
Meanwhile, Theresa May hit back at Mr Putin’s claim that it was “nonsense” to blame his government for the attack in Salisbury, Wiltshire, which also put a policeman in hospital.
During a visit to Birmingham, the Prime Minister declared: “Russia has the capability and, I believe, the motive and intent, and this is part of a pattern of behaviour we see from Russia across Europe.
“I’m clear that what we have seen shows that there is no other conclusion but that the Russian state is culpable for what happened on the streets of Salisbury.”
Mrs May said it was for police to decide if the suspicious deaths of other Russians in the UK needed further investigation.
In Brussels, the EU foreign ministers adopted a statement of support for the UK, but it fell short of explicitly accusing Russia of the Salisbury attack on March 4.
It said only that the EU took Britain’s assessment “seriously”, offering “unqualified solidarity”.
The Foreign Affairs Council statement, which Mr Johnson welcomed on Twitter, said: “The EU takes extremely seriously the UK government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible.
“The EU 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.
Putin said Russia does not have nerve agents and its chemical arsenals were previously destroyed
The use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is completely unacceptable and constitutes a security threat to us all.
“Any such use is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order.
“The Union calls on Russia to address urgently questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons].
“The EU expresses its unqualified solidarity with the UK and its support, including for the UK’s efforts to bring those responsible for this crime to justice.” Russia’s Tass news agency said the Kremlin was insisting that the UK either backed up its “unfounded allegations” with evidence or apologised.