Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has criticized the UK for trying to “mislead” the international community over the poisoning of a former spy in Britain, saying London has staged a “political performance” in the case.
Lavrov on Wednesday criticized Britain for accusing Russia of involvement in the incident and described such claims as not robust.
“Without concrete facts, it is a flagrant attempt to mislead the international community, to which we will have to respond,” Lavrov said.
Last Wednesday, British authorities announced that former double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, had been hospitalized since they had been found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in the city of Salisbury. They were reportedly being exposed to a nerve agent.
On Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was “highly likely” that Moscow was behind the poisoning, giving the Kremlin until the end of Tuesday to answer the accusations.
May further warned that otherwise London would consider the poisoning an attack directed by the Russian government.
Lavrov said that Russia would be ready to provide the UK with a response as to how the nerve agent could have appeared in Britain within 10 days if London submitted an official request, in line with the Chemical Weapons Convention.
“Instead of submitting such a request, Britain has continued to stage a political performance,” the top Russian diplomat added, noting Moscow found no progress made toward resolving the standoff over the case.
Britain is treating the case as attempted murder.
British PM announces punitive measures against Russia
Meanwhile, May on Wednesday announced a set of punitive measures against Russia amid deteriorating relations between London and Moscow.
Speaking to parliament, May said that Britain had ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats believed to be involved in espionage-related activities.
She provided no further details on the Russian diplomats ordered expelled, but said they were deemed “undeclared intelligence officers.”
She also outlined a range of other steps, including a halt to high-level meetings with Russian officials and calling off a planned visit by Lavrov to London.
Russia calls UK PM’s remarks crude provocation
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Britain’s decision to expel Russian diplomats was crude and hostile.
The ministry said that May’s statement was “an unprecedentedly crude provocation that undermines the foundations of a normal interstate dialogue between our countries.”
“We consider it categorically unacceptable and unworthy that the British government, in its unseemly political aims, further seriously aggravated relations, announcing a whole set of hostile measures, including the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from the country,” the statement added.
The Russian embassy in London also said the expulsion of Russian diplomats was a hostile action and totally unacceptable, unjustified and short-sided.
It added that all the responsibility for the deterioration of the Russia-UK ties lies with the current political leadership of Britain.
Russian lawmaker Vladimir Dzhabarov also said on Wednesday he did not rule out that Moscow could expel more than 23 British diplomats from Russia, RIA news agency said.
UN Security Council to hold emergency meeting on poisoning of ex-spy
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Wednesday at Britain’s request to discuss the poisoning of the Russian former double agent in England.
Britain will brief council members during the open meeting at 1900 GMT, the British mission to the United Nations said.
NATO allies urge Russia to ‘address UK’s questions’ on spy poisoning
Meanwhile, NATO allies urged Russia Wednesday to answer Britain’s questions over the poisoning case.
“Allies expressed solidarity with the UK, offered their support in the conduct of the ongoing investigation, and called on Russia to address the UK’s questions,” said a joint statement by the 29 member nations of the US-led military alliance.
Skripal was found guilty by a Russian tribunal of selling classified information to UK’s spy agency MI6 and was imprisoned in Russia in 2006. He was exchanged in a spy swap in 2010.
* * *