British PM Theresa May vows ‘robust’ response to poisoning of former Russian spy
The government confirmed a nerve agent was used against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, fuelling speculation among lawmakers that Russia is involved
UK Prime Minister Theresa May will take “robust” action against whoever poisoned a former Russian spy with nerve agent on British soil, her office warned on Thursday.
May is being briefed regularly on the case, and officials are putting a plan in place to act as soon as the perpetrators are identified, the prime minister’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London on Thursday.
“It is clear that this was an appalling and reckless crime,” Slack said. “Our response to those responsible will be robust.”
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench Sunday in Salisbury, southwest of London. They were “targeted specifically”, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters late on Wednesday. Government experts have identified the “specific nerve agent used”, which will help identify the source, the police said.
Earlier, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said Britain would do “all we can” to pursue the perpetrators of the nerve agent attack.
“We are committed to doing all we can to bring the perpetrators to justice, whoever they are and wherever they may be,” she told MPs, describing it as a “brazen and reckless act”.
Rudd said she was “confident” the perpetrators will be found but cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
Wednesday’s announcement that a nerve agent was used in the attack increased speculation the attack was the work of another state. Lawmakers have accused Russia of being responsible.
“When we have all the evidence of what took place we will, if it’s appropriate, attribute it to somebody. If that is the case we will have a plan in place,” Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today show. “We are absolutely robust about crimes committed on these streets, in the UK There’s nothing soft about the UK’s response to any sort of state activity in this country.”
Skripal was convicted in 2006 of passing the identities of Russian agents in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. Russian authorities said payments totalling US$100,000 were made into a Spanish bank account in return for his work for the UK.
He was sentenced to 13 years in jail, but in 2010 was pardoned and sent to Britain, in a swap deal involving agents who had been arrested in the US.
Rudd said security services are working constantly behind the scenes to counter threats to UK and foreign citizens in Britain.
“You may not hear about it all – but when we do see there is action to be taken, we will take it,” Rudd said. “There is activity the police, the security services take day in day out that protects us, that keeps us safe that we don’t hear about every day, partly because of their success at doing the job they do so bravely and so well.”
Rob Wainwright, the head of the European Union’s law enforcement agency Europol, offered a heavy hint about where he thought responsibility for the attack lay in a comment on Twitter. “Of course we should exercise caution before jumping to any conclusions,” he wrote. “But, whoever is responsible – and there are not 101 likely offenders – this is an outrageous affront to our security in Europe and our way of life.”
The Times of London reported that intelligence officials are treating the poisoning as a state-sponsored assassination attempt, although there are also alternative theories including crime.
Russia has adopted an increasingly aggressive foreign policy in recent years, directed toward both its immediate neighbours and further afield. Britain has accused it of interfering in elections worldwide, and has stationed forces in countries on its border to deter military action.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told parliament on Tuesday that Russia had become a “malign and disruptive force”, and Britain would be likely to increase sanctions if evidence emerged that Russia was behind the attack.
The incident has uncomfortable echoes of the case of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian ex-spy who was murdered in 2006 after his tea was spiked with radioactive polonium. Johnson also made a connection with that case. In 2016, a judge ruled that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably approved the murder. Russia dismissed the UK inquiry at the time as a “politicised farce”.
A police officer who was early on the scene is also in hospital, although Rudd said he is talking and engaging, so she was more “optimistic” about his condition.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse