This photo shows military personnel in College Street Car Park in Salisbury on March 11, 2018, as police and members of the armed forces probe the suspected nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, which took place on March 4. (PHOTO / AP)
LONDON/MOSCOW – Russia will only respond to a British demand it provide answers about the nerve agent that poisoned former double agent Sergei Skripal if London lets Moscow analyze the substance, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was "highly likely" that Moscow was responsible for the poisoning in England of Skripal and his daughter using a military-grade nerve agent that was part of the Novichok group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military.
The Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, was summoned to the Foreign Office and given until the end of Tuesday to provide an explanation.
Lavrov said the British government was obliged to provide Moscow access to the substance because Britain and Russia were signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
But London had so far refused to provide Moscow access to the substance and other materials related to the poisoning case, Lavrov said.
President Vladimir Putin faces a midnight deadline to explain to Britain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to strike down Skripal.
Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital in a critical condition since March 4 when they were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in the southern English cathedral city of Salisbury.
May gave Putin, who faces a presidential election on March 18, until end of Tuesday to explain what happened or face what she said were "much more extensive" measures against the US$1.5 trillion Russian economy.
The Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, was summoned to the Foreign Office and given until the end of Tuesday to provide an explanation. Russia has denied any role in the attack on Skripal and his daughter.
In this Aug 9, 2006 file photo, Russian spy Sergei Skripal speaks to his lawyer from behind bars seen on a screen of a monitor outside a courtroom in Moscow. Skripal and his daughter Yulia were attacked with a nerve agent in a targeted murder attempt and were found unconscious on March 4, 2018 on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury. (MISHA JAPARIDZE / AP)
The European Union also said it would stand by Britain, which is due to leave the bloc in just over a year's time. May spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron, who Downing Street said condemned the attack and offered his solidarity with Britain.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the use of any nerve agent was horrendous and completely unacceptable.
Russia said May's allegations were politically motivated.
"It is a circus show in the British parliament," the TASS news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova as saying. "The conclusion is obvious: It's another political information campaign, based on a provocation."
May said Russia had shown a pattern of aggression including the annexation of Crimea and the murder of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after drinking green tea laced with radioactive polonium-210.
A British public inquiry found the killing of Litvinenko had probably been approved by Putin and carried out by two Russians, Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoy - a former KGB bodyguard who later became a member of the Russian parliament.
Both denied responsibility, as did Moscow.
This is an alleged image of Yulia Skripal, the daughter of former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal, taken from Yulia Skipal's Facebook account on March 6, 2018. (YULIA SKRIPAL/FACEBOOK VIA AP)
Putin, who took over as Kremlin chief from Boris Yeltsin on the last day of 1999, has denied allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election and says the West has repeatedly tried to undermine Russian interests.
Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence before his arrest in Moscow in 2004. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006, and in 2010 was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged for Russian spies.
Since emerging from the John le Carre world of high espionage and betrayal, Skripal lived modestly in Salisbury and kept out of the spotlight until he was found unconscious on Sunday.
Novichok agents are believed to be five to 10 times more lethal than the more commonly known VX and Sarin. They cause a slowing of the heart and restriction of the airways, leading to death by asphyxiation, University of Reading pharmacology professor Gary Stephens said.
Russian state television said Skripal had been recruited by the British when working as Russia's military attache in Spain and that he had handed over 20,000 pages of secret documents to MI6, Britain's foreign spy service.
A British policeman who was one of the first to attend to the stricken spy was also affected by the nerve agent. He is now conscious in a serious but stable condition, police said.