Posts Tagged ‘Lavrov’

Era of preposterous lies: Russian FM threatens to ‘hit back’ at Britain over spy poisoning — Russia has “chosen to be a strategic competitor.” — “Use of chemical weapons shows disdain for international law and norms.”

March 21, 2018

Image result for photos, lavrov and zarif

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. REUTERS – Sergei Karpukhin FILE PHOTO

TOKYO (AFP) – Russia’s foreign minister threatened Wednesday to retaliate against Britain for “anti-Russian measures”, with the two countries at loggerheads over the poisoning of a spy in southern England.

Speaking after a meeting with Japanese counterpart Taro Kono, Lavrov said: “If the British government continues taking some anti-Russian measures, we will hit back under the principle of reciprocity.”

Lavrov urged the British government to “respond calmly” over the March 4 attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who remain in critical condition.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has long been part of Putin’s inner circle.  — AFP File PHOTO

Britain says only Russia had the capability, motive and intent to be behind the attack, which used the nerve agent Novichok reportedly developed by the former Soviet Union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed this as “nonsense”.

Britain reacted by expelling 23 Russian diplomats and their families — around 80 people in total — and has also cut off high-level contacts.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said London was “actively considering” other measures.

On Tuesday, the head of the OPCW chemical watchdog said it would take two to three weeks to complete laboratory analysis of samples taken from the poisoning.

The affair has poisoned Russia’s already shaky relations with many Western countries.

The EU has expressed its solidarity with Britain and leaders at a summit later this week will agree to “coordinate on the consequences” for Russia, according to a draft statement seen by AFP.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis suggested on Tuesday that Moscow’s suspected involvement shows Russia has “chosen to be a strategic competitor.”

However, President Donald Trump skipped the issue when congratulating Putin on his re-election and proposed a summit in the “not-too-distant future.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced “outrage” over the attack in a call to May, according to her office.

Skripal, 66, a former Russian officer who sold secrets to Britain and moved there in a 2010 spy swap, remains in a coma along with his 33-year-old daughter after they were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury.


A police cordon outside the Mill pub in Salisbury, Wiltshire, Britain, 19 March 2018, where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, had a drink. EPA-EFE

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the OPCW chemical watchdog said Tuesday that it will take two to three weeks to complete laboratory analysis of samples taken from the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

A team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has arrived in Britain to collect samples of what London says was the Soviet-made nerve agent Novichok.

Russia has denied any involvement in the March 4 attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who remain in critical condition in the English city of Salisbury.

OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu said the samples will be sent to the organization’s main laboratory in The Hague and then to designated labs for analysis.

It will take “another two to three weeks to finalize the analysis,” Uzumcu told reporters.

Asked whether the analysis would be able to determine whether the agent was Novichok, Uzumcu said he did not want to prejudge the outcome of the scientific work.

The OPCW chief was in New York to brief the United Nations Security Council on chemical weapons use in Syria, but he also touched on the Salisbury attack during the closed-door meeting. –AFP


De Mistura: Dividing Syria is catastrophic to the entire region — He agrees with Putin…

March 20, 2018


Syrian pro-government forces enter the main square of Kfar Batna, southeastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on March 19, 2018. (AFP)
DUBAI: United Nations’ special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said Syria was heading toward a catastrophic division and could see the return of Daesh if a peaceful settlement was not found, Saudi state-news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported.
Speaking to an audience at the Institute of Graduate Studies in Geneva, De Mistura said: “The fact is that Syria’s long-term division, which we are witnessing at the moment in different areas of control, will be catastrophic, not only for Syria, but for the region as a whole.”
He explained that without a political solution that does not exclude anyone, Daesh will return to the sphere.
“This is division, this is in fact a country with areas under the influence of other countries … this cannot continue,” said de Mistura, holding a map of Syria with different colors representing the areas of control of the land, adding that “I think that ultimately Syria must remain united.”
He said neither the European Union nor the World Bank would fund the $352 billion reconstruction of Syria unless a political process involving a new UN-sponsored constitution was found.
He added that without this, any military victory would come at an irreplaceable cost.
De Mistura said there was no country that wanted to divide Syria, and that Russia and the United States shared a common interest in defeating Daesh and were in constant communication.


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Foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran Meet To Divide Up Syria: Criticize the U.S., UK and France for Wanting to Divide Up Syria

March 18, 2018

Al Jazeera

Foreign ministers’ meeting in Astana stressed Syria’s territorial integrity.

Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) hold joint press conference after the ninth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16, 2018 [Anadolu]
Turkish Foreign Affairs Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) hold joint press conference after the ninth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on March 16, 2018 [Anadolu]

The foreign ministers of TurkeyRussia and Iran have met in the Kazakh capital Astana and issued a joint statement which emphasised the territorial integrity of Syria.

“Those who, in violation of all norms of international law, in violation of Resolution 2254, obviously seek to divide Syria, to replace the regime so that this important Middle Eastern country is replaced by small principalities, controlled by external players, certainly do not welcome what we are doing in Astana, we are trying to achieve in Astana,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a speech before the talks with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts in Astana.

In an interview with Kazah’s media, Lavrov added: “I do not think that we should even talk about a potential partition of Syria, but it is our duty to demand that these plans be immediately foiled, some bear it.”

“US, French, UK special forces are ‘on the ground’ in Syria. So it is not a ‘proxy war’ anymore, but direct engagement in the warfare.”

Next steps

From his side, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu “underlined the need to differ terrorists from civilians,” especially in places where civilians live densely.

“We are also against the going of all terrorists to Idlib [in northwestern Syria]. There, they constitute a threat to the people, opposition and to all of us,” Cavusoglu stressed.

Another summit will be held in Istanbul on April 4.

Astana talks were launched by Russia, Turkey and Iran in January 2017 with the aim of putting an end to the war in Syria, as well as coordinate the exchange of prisoners and the handover of the those killed in the war.

Syria: In the Ruins of a Dream


Syria: In the Ruins of a Dream



Times of Israel

Iran, Russia and Turkey hold Syria talks in Astana

Gathering of three outside powers with forces embroiled in Syria comes as thousands face hunger in regime forces’ siege in Damascus suburb of Ghouta

File: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrive for a joint press conference with the Russian and Iranian presidents at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 28, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Sergei Karpukhin)

File: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrive for a joint press conference with the Russian and Iranian presidents at the Kremlin in Moscow, March 28, 2017. (AFP/Pool/Sergei Karpukhin)

ASTANA, Kazakhstan — The foreign ministers of Iran, Russia and Turkey were locked in talks on Syria in Kazakhstan Friday, almost a month after the Moscow- and Tehran-backed regime began pounding an opposition enclave just outside of Damascus.

The dire humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, is likely to be on the agenda as Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Mevlut Cavusoglu of Turkey convened in the Kazakh capital Astana Friday.

Speaking at the outset of the talks Friday Lavrov said that “millions of Syrians are looking in the direction of Astana” as the three power brokers work towards an end to the conflict.

The meeting is expected to lay the ground for a summit involving the presidents of the three countries in Istanbul on April 4.

At least 340,000 people have been killed since Syria’s brutal civil war started in 2011, with some measures counting an even higher death toll. It has since spiraled into a complex conflict involving multiple world powers.

In recent weeks focus has been on Eastern Ghouta. Nearly 1,260 civilians have been killed there, a fifth of them children, since the Syrian regime’s bombardment of the rebel enclave began on February 18.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has described the former rebel stronghold facing stark shortages of food and other basic goods as “hell on Earth.”

Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are now believed to control over 70 percent of the enclave that saw nearly 20,000 civilians flee on Thursday alone according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rebel-backer Turkey has called for an end to the siege in Eastern Ghouta but remains embroiled in its own offensive on the northern Syrian town of Afrin that is inhabited mostly by ethnic Kurds.

The United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is missing the Astana talks through illness, his office said Thursday, adding that deputy Ramzi Ramzi would take his place.

Kazakhstan has hosted multiple rounds of talks on Syria since January 2017 backed by the three power brokers, most of which involved delegations from the Syrian government and opposition.

A deal for four “de-escalation zones” thrashed out in Astana last year was credited with reducing government-rebel hostilities but was branded a failure by the United States in the wake of the assault on Eastern Ghouta.


Russia outraged after UK blames Putin for Skripal poisoning

March 17, 2018


© Daniel Leal-Olivas, AFP | British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London on March 14, 2018

Latest update : 2018-03-17

Britain provoked Russia’s wrath on Friday by directly implicating Vladimir Putin in the poisoning attack on an ex-double agent, with the Kremlin saying the claims were “shocking and unforgivable”.

The war of words between Moscow and London over the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy escalated as Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said his government’s “quarrel” was with Putin rather than the Russian people.

“We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War,” Johnson said in London.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded saying Johnson’s claims violated all rules of diplomatic protocol.

Linking Putin to the attack on Sergei Skripal, who moved to Britain in a 2010 spy swap, “is nothing but shocking and unforgivable behaviour from the point of view of diplomacy”, Peskov told Russian news agencies.

The crisis has unravelled in the thick of Russia’s presidential campaign, with Putin expected to win a fourth Kremlin term on Sunday.

In a rare joint statement, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and the United States on Thursday condemned the attack on Skripal and his daughter Yulia – both in a critical but stable condition in hospital – as an “assault on UK sovereignty”.

They said there “no plausible alternative explanation” for the use of the Soviet-designed nerve agent other than Russian responsibility.

Police officer Nick Bailey, who initially attended to the Skripals, was also in hospital in a critical state, though conscious, but his health has improved and he is now in a stable condition, England’s health service said Friday.

Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to Britain, told Channel 4 television that Britain’s response to the attack was a “gross provocation”.

He branded the British investigation “untransparent and secret”, adding that there was “no proof” that Skripal was gravely ill.

Moscow opens probes

The Kremlin has vehemently denied it had a hand in the poisoning of its former spy in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

London’s key allies have closed ranks against Putin after British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and suspended high-level contacts, among other measures.

On Friday, Russia said it could hit back at Britain at “any minute” with its own raft of punitive measures.

The Kremlin has indicated it would expel British diplomats in a riposte to London’s move as well as adopt other measures that would “most suit Moscow’s interests”.

“All the steps will be well thought out,” Peskov said.

Meanwhile the Investigative Committee, which reports to Putin, opened a probe into the “attempted premeditated murder” of Skripal’s daughter, a Russian national, which it said had been “carried out in a way that was dangerous to the public”.

At the same time a separate probe was opened into the mysterious death of Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian exile who was found dead at his London home this week.

London’s Metropolitan Police later announced their own murder investigation, saying Glushkov had suffered compression of the neck.

Scepticism in Russia

Putin has barely weighed in on the row, telling a BBC reporter this week: “Sort things out from your side and then we will discuss this with you.”

Russia insists it had no motive to target Skripal with what Britain says was a highly potent Soviet-designed nerve agent called Novichok, in the first such attack in Europe since World War II.

Skripal had taken his daughter, who was on a visit from Moscow, out for lunch before they both collapsed on a bench.

Many Russians remain sceptical that the state was responsible and some analysts have not ruled out the involvement of ordinary criminals or rogue agents.

The incident revived memories of the fate of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident who died of Polonium radiation poisoning in a 2006 attack in Britain that London blamed on Moscow.

EU president Donald Tusk said Friday that the bloc would discuss the attack at a Brussels summit next week, adding it would send a “clear message”.

‘We don’t want Cold War’

Vil Mirzayanov, a Soviet-era chemist who helped create Novichok but later revealed the existence of Moscow’s classified programme, said terrorists could not produce it.

“To create its components one needs powerful labs and very experienced personnel which only exist in several countries,” the now US-based whistleblower told opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

Britain on Friday said that it had invited the chemical weapons watchdog OPCW to take a sample of the poison for analysis, under Article 8 of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

May warned more measures could follow against Russia, noting that the US-led NATO alliance and the UN Security Council had discussed the attack.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday the alliance did not want a return to Cold War hostilities with Russia while expressing support for Britain’s stance.

“We don’t want a new Cold War,” he told BBC radio

Britain says likely that Russia’s Putin made decision for nerve agent attack — “Not just anyone can grab this stuff and use it…”

March 16, 2018


LONDON (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday that it was overwhelmingly likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin himself made the decision to use a military-grade nerve toxin to strike down a former Russian agent on English soil.

Image result for Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R, front) listens to explanations as he visits the Almazov National Medical Research Centre in St. Petersburg, Russia March, photos

Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R, front) listens to explanations as he visits the Almazov National Medical Research Centre in St. Petersburg, Russia March 16, 2018. Anatoly Maltsev/Pool via REUTERS

“We have nothing against the Russians themselves. There is to be no Russophobia as a result of what is happening,” Johnson said.

“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision – and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision – to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War.”

Russia has denied any involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal.

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and David Milliken; editing by Kate Holton

Russia tells May it is ‘not to blame’ for nerve agent poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal — Moscow demands access to nerve agent UK found…

March 13, 2018
Russia says it ‘is not to blame’ for poisoning spy with nerve agent

Image may contain: 4 people, people standing

Russia has told Theresa May it “is not to blame” for the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal.

Sergei Lavrov, the country’s foreign minister, said Moscow had demanded access to samples of the nerve agent used to poison Mr Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.

Mr Lavrov said the British government had refused to provide Moscow access to materials and samples related to the case, which he called a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Moscow was willing to cooperate with the probe but suggested the UK would be “better off” complying with its international obligations “before putting forward ultimatums,” Mr Lavrov added.

Russian news agencies reported that the foreign ministry had summoned the British ambassador in Moscow over the poisoning accusations.

On Monday, Ms May said Mr Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, had been poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent known as Novichok, which had been developed in the Soviet Union.

The Prime Minister said Russia has until the end of Tuesday to explain how the substance ended up in Britain, otherwise the attack would be interpreted as an act of military aggression.

Officials said Ms May was reviewing a range of economic and diplomatic measures in retaliation for the assault.

The British government will have understood that the Kremlin was unlikely to respond to Ms May’s ultimatum positively. Many in Moscow are already bracing themselves for that they see as an inevitable tightening of sanctions.

Ms May told her regular weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street there was ”no doubt of the severity of what had taken place in Salisbury, which was a reckless, indiscriminate and despicable act.”

She confirmed she will chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday to discuss the Russian response and will then inform the House of commons of any measures to be taken.

Responding to Mr Lavrov’s complaint the UK had not provided samples of the nerve agent, Ms May’s official spokesman said: ”The UK complies fully with all its obligations under the chemical weapons convention.

“Under the chemical weapons convention states have the mechanism to consult, but there is no requirement to do so.”

The police and MI5 will look into allegations of Russian state involvement in a string of deaths on UK soil, the Government announced.

The announcement by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, followed reports claiming US intelligence sources suspect as many as 14 people may have been assassinated in Britain by Russia’s security services or mafia groups.

Investigators in protective clothing remove a van from an address in Winterslow near Salisbury (Getty)

Sergei Stepashin, Vladimir Putin’s predecessor as FSB director and Prime Minister, also called for British authorities to hand over evidence.

“We have the relevant agreements to investigate this together,” he told the Interfax news agency.

Mr Stepashin said British security services may have been complicit in the poisoning — and were using it to undermine Russia ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections: “It seems obvious to me that this might be the primitive work of English security services. Tell me who needs this traitor in Russia?”

There could be another reason apart from elections, he added: “The World Cup is about to take start and the English hate us for the fact the competition is taking place in our country.”

Earlier in the day, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Committee for Foreign Affairs in the Russian upper house described British allegations as “maniacal.” Britain was well versed in blaming all kinds of “mortal sins” on Russia, he wrote on Facebook.

“Russia is being asked to justify itself even without evidence,” he said. “In queen of courts of Britain, this degradation is complete: the total presumption of guilt, when the neither court and nor prosecutor are asked to prove the case, but the accused.”

Military officials in protective clothing remove vehicles from a car park in Salisbury (EPA)

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson said Britain was talking to its international partners about the situation.

“I’ve been encouraged by the willingness of our friends to show support and solidarity,” the Foreign Secretary said.

“I think in particular from President [Emmanuel] Macron of France, I talked to Sigmar Gabriel my German counterpart, and from Washington where Rex Tillerson last night made it absolutely clear that he sees this as part of a pattern of disruptive behaviour… malign behaviour by Russia… the support for the reckless use of chemical weapons which stretches from Syria now to the streets of Salisbury.”

Mr Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, said Russia’s actions would “certainly trigger a response.”

He said it was “almost beyond comprehension” a government would use such a dangerous substance in a public place.

Police officers stand outside a  Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury as it remains closed as investigations continue into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

The chief of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said those responsible “must be held accountable.”

Ahmet Uzumcu said Boris Johnson had called him on Monday evening to inform him of the results.

In a speech to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Mr Uzumcu said: ”It is extremely worrying that chemical agents are still being used to harm people. Those found responsible for this use must be held accountable for their actions.

Britain’s representative to the watchdog told the watchdog’s council it is “highly likely” Russia was involved in the attack “by failure to control its own materials or by design.”

Mr Wilson “the first offensive use of a nerve agent of any sort on European territory since World War II.

He added: ”This attempted murder, using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British city, was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the UK, which put the lives of innocent civilians at risk.”

Mr Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter remain in critical condition.

Britain gives Putin until midnight to explain nerve attack on former spy

March 13, 2018


LONDON (Reuters) – Britain gave President Vladimir Putin until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to strike down a former Russian double agent who passed secrets to British intelligence.

Sergei 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 English cathedral city of Salisbury.

Prime Minister Theresa May said it was“highly likely” that Russia was to blame after Britain identified the substance as part of the highly-lethal Novichok group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet military in the 1970s and 1980s.

Investigators in protective clothing

Investigators in protective clothing more than a week after Sergei Skripa and his daughter were found unconscious CREDIT: DAVID ROSE FOR THE TELEGRAPH

“Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country,” May told parliament on Monday.“Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

Russia holds a presidential election on March 18 in which Putin, himself a former KGB spy, is expected to coast easily to a fourth term in the Kremlin. It has denied any role in the poisoning and says Britain is whipping up anti-Russian hysteria.

Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, summoned to the Foreign Office, was given until the end of Tuesday to explain what happened or face what May said were“much more extensive” measures against the $1.5 trillion Russian economy.

If no satisfactory Russian response is received by midnight London time then May will outline Britain’s response in parliament. She is due to hold a meeting of top security officials on Wednesday.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that the British response would be“commensurate but robust”.

“We’re giving Russia until midnight to explain how it came to be that Novichok was used on the streets of Wiltshire,” he said.“We cannot exclude that they have an explanation.”

Russia has requested access to the nerve agent used against Skripal but Britain has denied it access, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said. Britain’s Russian ambassador met Lavrov’s deputy in Moscow on Tuesday, a spokesman for the British embassy said.


Britain could call on allies for a coordinated Western response, freeze the assets of Russian business leaders and officials, expel diplomats, launch targeted cyber attacks and cut back participation in events such as the soccer World Cup.

Official figures show that Russia accounted for 4.7 billion pounds ($6.5 billion) of goods and services imported to Britain in 2016, less than 1 percent of its total. Exports were put at 5.3 billion pounds out of a British total of just under 550 billion pounds.

Read more:




BBC News

Russian spy: Highly likely Moscow behind attack, says Theresa May


Sergei Skripal and his daughter YuliaImage copyrightEPA/ YULIA SKRIPAL/FACEBOOK
Image captionSergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are in a critical condition in hospital

Former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia, Theresa May has told MPs.

The PM said it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack.

The Foreign Office summoned Russia’s ambassador to provide an explanation.

Mrs May said if there is no “credible response” by the end of Tuesday, the UK would conclude there has been an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.

The chemical used in the attack, the PM said, has been identified as one of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.

Mrs May said: “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

Theresa May: Spy poisoned by “military-grade nerve agent”

She said Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had told the ambassador Moscow must provide “full and complete disclosure” of the Novichok programme to international body the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Mrs May said the UK must stand ready to take much more extensive measures, and these would be set out in the Commons on Wednesday should there be no adequate explanation from Russia.

Retired military intelligence officer Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury city centre on Sunday 4 March. They remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

Det Sgt Nick Bailey, who fell ill attending the pair, remains seriously ill, but has been talking to his family.

Mr Skripal was convicted by the Russian government of passing secrets to MI6 in 2004, but given refuge in the UK in 2010 as part of a “spy swap”.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd will chair a meeting of the government emergency committee Cobra on Tuesday to discuss the latest developments in the case.

Presentational grey line

What are Novichok agents?

Investigators in Winterslow, near Salisbury on 12 March 2018Image copyrightPA
Image captionInvestigators removed a vehicle from a village near Salisbury on Monday
  • The name means “newcomer” in Russian, and applies to a group of advanced nerve agents developed in secret by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s
  • One chemical – called A-230 – is reportedly five to eight times more toxic than VX nerve agent, which can kill a person within minutes
  • Some are liquids, others are thought to exist in solid form. Some are reported to be “binary weapons”, meaning they are typically stored as two less toxic chemicals which when mixed, react to produce the more toxic agent
  • One variant was reportedly approved for use by the Russian military as a chemical weapon
  • Designed to escape detection by international inspectors, their existence was revealed by defectors

Read more on Novichok and what it can do

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Addressing the Commons following a meeting of the government’s National Security Council, Mrs May said: “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.”

She told MPs the positive identification of this chemical agent was made by experts at the UK’s Porton Down laboratory.

She said Russia has previously produced the agent and would still be capable of doing so.

The decision to point the finger at Moscow was also based on “Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations”, the PM added.

Jeremy Corbyn urges action – but criticises the Tories for taking donations from “Russian oligarchs”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “robust dialogue” with Russia was needed to avoid escalating tensions further – but he was heckled by Tory MPs when he raised questions about Russian oligarchs donating money to the Conservatives.

‘Circus show’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the US agreed with the UK that Russia was likely to be behind the attack.

“We agree that those responsible – both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it – must face appropriately serious consequences,” he added.

“We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.”

Mrs May spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday and “discussed the wide pattern of aggressive Russian behaviour and agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies to address it”, her spokesman said.

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the use of any nerve agent was “horrendous and completely unacceptable” and officials were in touch with the UK.

Downing Street said the incident was not an “article five” matter – a reference to Nato rules which say an attack on one member constitutes an attack on all.

However, the former UK National Security Adviser Lord Ricketts said action would be more effective with a “broader, Nato-EU solidarity behind us”.

He added: “We can’t out-punch Putin… But we can take a stand and we can invite others to join us.”

President Vladimir Putin is asked whether Russia had a hand in the Skripal poisoning

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Mrs May’s statement was “a circus show in the British parliament”.

“The conclusion is obvious – it’s another information and political campaign based on provocation,” she said.

Earlier, asked whether Russia was to blame, President Vladimir Putin told the BBC: “Get to the bottom of things there, then we’ll discuss this.”

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg says the tone of the meeting between Boris Johnson and the Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was “cool but firm”.

She says the men did not shake hands and the foreign secretary expressed the “outrage” of the British public.

Presentational grey line

What will the PM do next?

By James Landale, diplomatic correspondent

Theresa May could have thrown the kitchen sink at Russia, expelling diplomats, toughening sanctions, and cracking down on oligarchs who keep their cash in London.

Instead, the PM has chosen a staged response, throwing down an ultimatum to the Kremlin to explain what happened or face the consequences.

The argument she was making was that this attack crossed a line, that it was not the sort of thing that sometimes happens to old spies in the darker underbelly of the intelligence world, but instead it was part of a pattern of Russian aggression from which other countries have also suffered.

The question now is what action Mrs May will be prepared to take on Wednesday once Russia has responded, or perhaps failed to respond.

The key will be the scale of the international co-operation she can secure.

For it is one thing to crack down on wealthy Russians in London, but it is another to secure united international action against Moscow.

This is a tougher ask, particularly when President Trump has yet to comment on the Salisbury attack and many European partners are looking to soften existing sanctions against Russia.

Mrs May is promising “extensive measures” – the question will be whether they will be enough to make the Kremlin think twice.

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Police and Army activity continued in the Salisbury area on Monday, with officers – some wearing hazardous materials suits – removing a white van from the village of Winterslow, about six miles away.

A Sainsbury’s car park has become the latest area to be sealed off in the city itself.

Salisbury map

Mrs May said the people of Salisbury had responded with “fortitude and calmness”, but there was some concern among residents about the length of time it had taken for information to be released.

On Sunday, up to 500 Salisbury pub-goers and diners were told to wash their possessions as a precaution after trace amounts of the substance used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found on and around a table where they had eaten in Zizzi. Traces were also found at the Mill pub in the city which, like Zizzi, remains closed.

Graham Mulcock, who saw the Skripals being treated by paramedics in the street, said it was a “disappointment” that advice which “might affect people” was not released sooner.

Former chief medical officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson, said he had also been a “little surprised” that communication with the public had been “slow to get off the ground”.

Meanwhile, a man from Salisbury who breached the cordon around the bench where Mr Skripal and his daughter were found has been jailed for 16 weeks.

Father-of-three Jamie Knight, 30, who pleaded guilty to assault, criminal damage and racially aggravated public disorder, was said to have been drunk when he shouted out abusive remarks about Russians, Swindon Magistrates’ Court was told.

EU and Russia vie for influence in volatile Balkans region

February 24, 2018

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks during a press conference after talks with his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic, in Belgrade, Serbia. Russia mainly wants to discourage Western Balkan countries from joining NATO, but has also shown opposition to their EU membership bids. Serbia is a major target for Russian efforts because of deep cultural and historic links between the two Slavic nations. (AP Photo)
BELGRADE: For years, Russia has worked to gain influence in Southeast Europe, using Serbia as a foothold to establish a friendly pocket on a hostile continent.
The European Union finally is pushing back. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is embarking on a seven-nation Balkans tour Sunday to promote the EU’s new eastward expansion strategy.
Russia mainly wants to discourage the Western Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo and Serbia — from joining NATO. But Moscow also is trying to deter them from joining the EU.
The EU sees the prospect of membership as an incentive for reform in the volatile Balkans region, which was torn apart by war in the 1990s. Its expansion strategy puts Serbia and Montenegro in position to join should the bloc open its doors to more members, tentatively by 2025.
Serbia is a major target of Moscow’s anti-Western activities in Europe because the two Slavic and predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christian nations share deep cultural and historical ties.
The Kremlin is so concerned about losing its ally that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeatedly argued while in Serbia last week that EU membership isn’t all it’s cut out to be.
Lavrov also gave a warning; the EU’s repeated calls for Serbia to align its foreign policies with the bloc as a precursor to membership and to impose sanctions on Russia, he said, are the same “mistake” the West made by pressuring war-torn Ukraine to choose between it and Russia.
Serbian political analyst Bosko Jaksic thinks the “Russians are getting increasingly nervous as they lose allies one by one in the Balkans.”
“It’s not clear how far they are willing to go to preserve their interests here, but judging from what they did in Ukraine, they are willing to go far,” Jaksic said, referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Lavrov also said that “Europe is facing an unhealthy situation” because of NATO’s eastward expansion. Montenegro joined the Western military organization last year despite Moscow’s strong opposition. He praised Belgrade for maintaining military neutrality and refusing to join NATO.
“We are convinced that this status is one of the main factors ensuring stability in the Balkans and the European continent in general,” Lavrov said.
There have been mounting fears in the West that Russia is using Serbia to foment tensions in the Balkans by arming its ally with warplanes and tanks while working to destabilize neighboring Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
The European Union’s foreign and security policies grew out of Europe’s failure to respond to the wars in the Balkans that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia. The bloc remains wary that some of the ethnic cleavages that sparked the conflicts of the 1990s persist.
Three countries have become EU members: Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and Croatia in 2013. The rest either are candidates for membership of potential candidates.
“Investing in the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans means investing in the security and future of our Union,” Juncker said ahead of the trip.
Juncker’s tour of the Balkans, which starts in Macedonia on Sunday and ends with an EU summit in Bulgaria on March 1, is seen as the EU’s belated attempt to counter Russia’s reach.
“Paradoxically, the Russians and their policies in the Balkans have triggered alarm bells that woke up the European Union into action,” Jaksic, the analyst, said.

“Increasingly Difficult To Work With Russia on Syria” — Senior U.S. diplomat says — Dialogue with Russia on those issues and areas where we can work cooperatively toward a common goal is less and less — Is Putin’s Ego the problem?

February 23, 2018


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said in Brussels on Friday it has become harder for Washington to work with Moscow on Syria.

“We’ve worked hard to maintain relations and a dialogue with Russia on those issues and areas where we can work cooperatively toward a common goal, Syria is one,” Sullivan told journalists.

“As the campaign against ISIS (Islamic State) has proceeded, it has become more challenging for us to work with the Russians on this (Syria).”

Sullivan said he had not been directly engaged in negotiations of the U.N. Security Council vote on Syria on Friday.

Russia says ready to agree on UN resolution on Syria but with caveats

February 23, 2018


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is ready to agree on a U.N. Security Council draft resolution in Syria but it needs guarantees on a ceasefire, Foreign Minister Lavrov said on Friday.

“There are no guarantees that (the rebels) will not continue shooting at Damascus residential areas,” Lavrov said in a briefing about discussions on a U.N. ceasefire resolution for Syria.

 Image may contain: 4 people, people sitting and suit
Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily A. Nebenzya, dismissed reports of attacks on civilians in eastern Ghouta as disinformation and propaganda — at a Security Council meeting on February 22, 2018. Credit Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters

“That’s why for the resolution to be efficient — and we are ready to agree on the text which would make it so — we propose a formula which would make the ceasefire real, based on the guarantees of all who are inside eastern Ghouta and outside eastern Ghouta,” Lavrov said.