British Prime Minister Theresa May said Russia owes the UK an explanation by Tuesday of how their nerve agent poisoned a former spy and his daughter on British turf, while the White House said it’s hanging back to see how the situation develops.
Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who fed intelligence to the Brits from 1995 to 2004 and was sent to the UK in a spy exchange in 2010, and his daughter Yulia collapsed March 4 at a shopping center in Salisbury. Both are in critical condition. A restaurant and a pub in the center have tested positive for traces of the nerve agent as military personnel clean up the crime scene and surrounding area.
Speaking to the House of Commons today after receiving an update on the investigation, May said it was “now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.”
“This is part of a group of nerve agents known as ‘Novichok,'” the prime minister said. “Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations; the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.”
“Mr. Speaker, there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March: Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others,” May added.
Russia’s ambassador to the UK was told that the Kremlin “must immediately provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”
May said that if there’s “no credible response,” from the Russian government, NATO allies should stand together as “we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”
“And I will come back to this House and set out the full range of measures that we will take in response,” she added. “Mr. Speaker, this attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.”
Asked at the White House today about standing with UK and potential repercussions for Russia, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the U.S. has been “monitoring the incident closely; take it very seriously.”
“The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against UK citizens on UK soil is an outrage. The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation, and we extend our sympathy to the victims and their families, and our support to the UK government. We stand by our closest ally in the special relationship that we have,” she said.
“You’re not saying that Russia was behind this now?” a reporter asked.
“Right now, we are standing with our UK ally,” Sanders responded. “I think they’re still working through, even, some of the details of that, and we’re going to continue to work with the UK, and we certainly stand with them throughout this process.”
Separately, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared in a statement that he has “full confidence in the UK’s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week.”
“There is never a justification for this type of attack – the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation – and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior. From Ukraine to Syria – and now the UK – Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens,” Tillerson said.
“We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences. We stand in solidarity with our Allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”