UK issues ultimatum to Russia over poisoning of former spy

British PM May is giving Russia until Tuesday midnight to explain how a former spy was poisoned in the UK before concluding an “unlawful use of force.” 

By: World Israel News Staff

The use of Russian-developed nerve agent Novichok to poison ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter makes it “highly likely” that Russia was involved, British Prime Minister Theresa May said, while issuing a stern ultimatum to Russia and demanding a “credible response.”

“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,” May told the House of Commons on Monday.

May said the Foreign Office had summoned Russia’s ambassador to “explain which of these two possibilities it is,” the BBC reported.

The British premier warned the Putin administration that if it does not provide a “credible response” by the end of Tuesday, the UK will conclude there was an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.

May said the UK must “stand ready to take much more extensive measures” against Russia, should there be no adequate explanation. She described the poisoning as “an indiscriminate and reckless act against the UK, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk.”

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Sergei Skripal, 66, a former Russian spy, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33, remain in a critical but stable condition after being found slumped on a bench near Salisbury, Wiltshire, on March 4, apparently the victims of nerve agent poisoning.

A police officer who fell ill while treating the two remains seriously ill in hospital.

Colonel Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service, the MI6. He was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006.

In July 2010, he was one of four prisoners released by Moscow in exchange for 10 Russian spies arrested by the FBI as part of a swap. He was later flown to the UK.

Russia has been told to provide “full and complete disclosure” of the Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons by the end of Tuesday.

Tillerson: ‘Really egregious act’

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson backed the UK’s combative statements by saying that it appeared the “really egregious act… clearly came from Russia” and there should be “serious consequences.”

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

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

Novichok, the nerve agent used to attack an ex-Russian spy on UK soil, refers to a class of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union near the end of the Cold War. Novichok behaves slightly differently than other nerve agents, with some reports saying that this class of substances is deadlier than similar chemicals like sarin or VX and harder to identify.

There are five known nerve agents, which are mostly colorless liquids that can kill within minutes, if ingested.

“Using Novichok makes it pretty clear that it was likely Russia that was behind this,” said Andrea Sella, a professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London.

While the raw materials needed to make a nerve agent are cheap and relatively accessible, transforming them into a deadly weapon requires specialized expertise and the kind of safety precautions normally found only in government laboratories.

However, trained chemists with access to secure facilities would theoretically be able to produce nerve agents, which have been described by some scientists as the most deadly invention humans have ever made, after the atom bomb.

“With these kinds of substances, they are just so dangerous that no fly-by-night terrorist group is going to cook this up,” Sella stated. “It really smells like a government outfit,” he said, adding that nations other than Russia would also be capable of producing Novichok.

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Russia has dismissed suggestions linking Moscow to the incident.

AP contributed to this report.