United Kingdom braced for Russian response after diplomatic expulsions

Vladimir Gerdo  TASS

Shortly after Mrs May said that she was expelling Russian diplomats and suspending bilateral talks, Mr Griveaux told a news conference: 'We don't do fantasy politics.

But the Foreign Office dismissed the claim, saying it had "information indicating that within the last decade, Russian Federation has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination".

"The first thing that came to my mind: If it was military grade agent, they would have died on the spot, obviously", said Putin, speaking at party headquarters in Moscow shortly after he spoke to a crowd in central Moscow.

In a sign of just how tense the relationship has become, British and Russian ministers used openly insulting language while the Russian ambassador said Britain was trying to divert attention from the difficulties it was having managing its exit from the European Union.

Chizhov pointed out that the United Kingdom chemical weapons research facility, Porton Down, is only eight miles from Salisbury, where Skripal - a former Russian intelligence officer convicted in his home country of spying for Britain- and his daughter were found March 4. President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win a fourth term.

The UK's failure to send a request to Moscow over the Skripal case via OPCW channels points to a lack of legal basis for a proper probe, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted on Friday, referring to Johnson's allegations that Russian Federation and even President Vladimir Putin himself were behind the plot to poison the Skripals.

"When you have a nerve agent or whatever you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratory", Chizhov told the BBC on Sunday.

Britain says Russian Federation is responsible for using the Novichok nerve agent against Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.

Among the more than three dozen sickened by exposure to the agent, most are believed to be suffering minimal symptoms in contrast to the hospitalized Skripal, his daughter Yulia and a responding police officer.

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Asked whether he was saying Porton Down was responsible, Chizhov replied: "I don't know".

US government chemical warfare experts are also working closely with their British counterparts on what is a major investigation.

The statement said the government could take further measures if Britain takes any more "unfriendly" moves toward Russian Federation.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose response to the attack has led to criticism from some on his backbenches, said "the evidence points towards Russia" being responsible - but the possibility of gangsters being behind the attack rather than the Kremlin could not be excluded.

Vladimir Chizhov, Moscow's European Union ambassador, said Russian Federation has no chemical weapons stockpiles and was not behind the poisoning.

Writing in the Guardian he warned against a "new Cold War" of "escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent".

In a rare joint statement, U.S. President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said "there is no plausible alternative explanation" to Russian responsibility.

May said Britain would also clamp down on murky Russian money and strengthen the government's ability to impose sanctions on those who abuse human rights, though she gave few details.

Moscow has denied any involvement in the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter. "And this will continue, because this is our foreign policy: very aggressive and very unpleasant".

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