Emergency services wearing protective clothing work near the bench where former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned in Salisbury, Britain, March 13, 2018..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Sunday that Russia has been stockpiling the deadly nerve agent used to poison a Russian former double agent in England and has been investigating how to use such weapons in assassinations.
Britain has said that Russia used the Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok (Russian for “newcomer”) to attack Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the first known offensive use of such a weapon on European soil since World War II. Russia has denied any involvement.
“We actually have evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok,” Johnson told the BBC.
Britain and Russia have each expelled 23 diplomats over the attack, as relations between the two countries are crashing to a post-Cold-War low.
Skripal, a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain, is fighting for his life along with his daughter after they were found collapsed on a bench in the city of Salisbury two weeks ago.
Officials from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – the world’s Nobel-prize-winning chemical weapons watchdog – will arrive in Britain on Monday to investigate the samples used in the attack. The results should be known in about two weeks, Britain’s foreign ministry said.
The ministry said that if Russia has been stockpiling nerve agents, this would amount to a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which Moscow is a signatory.
Russia’s ambassador to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told the same BBC program that his country has destroyed its reserves of such substances and that a British research laboratory could instead be the source of the nerve agent used in the attack.
Johnson dismissed those claims, saying that Russia’s reaction “was not the response of a country that really believes itself to be innocent...Their response has been a mix of smug sarcasm and denial and obfuscation.”
Johnson said Britain’s National Security Council will meet later this week to decide “what further measures, if any,” may be taken, and that the government may decide to target Russian wealth in Britain.
The British capital has been dubbed “Londongrad,” due to the large quantity of Russian money that have poured in since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Some British lawmakers have urged Prime Minister Theresa May to freeze the private assets of senior members in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
Putin is expected to easily win a presidential election on Sunday which would bring him to nearly a quarter of a century in power.