Russian spy: What we know so far

The attempted murder of a former Russian double agent and his daughter on British soil has led to accusations of Russian state involvement.

Soon after the attack on Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, Prime Minister Theresa May said the chemical used had been identified as being part of a group developed by Russia known as Novichok.

The British government went on to expel 23 Russian diplomats and their families after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used in the poisoning.

Twenty-nine countries expelled 145 Russian officials in solidarity with the UK – and Nato ordered 10 Russians out of its mission in Belgium.

Moscow initially responded in kind, expelling 23 British diplomats, 60 US diplomats and several from other countries. It has also closed the British Council in Russia and the British Consulate in St Petersburg.

Spy poisoning: Russia says UK is ‘playing with fire’

Russia has accused the UK of inventing a “fake story” and “playing with fire” over the Salisbury spy poisoning.

At a UN Security Council meeting, Moscow’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzia said Britain’s main goal had been “to discredit and even delegitimise” Russia with “unsubstantiated accusations”.

The UK says Russia is behind the attack but Moscow denies responsibility.

Britain’s UN representative Karen Pierce said the UK’s actions “stand up to any scrutiny”.

She likened Moscow’s requests to take part in the investigation to an arsonist investigating his own fire.

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    Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious in Salisbury on 4 March.

    Ms Skripal, 33, is recovering in hospital and has released a statement saying her “strength is growing daily”.

    Her father, 66, remains critically ill but stable.

    Meanwhile it has emerged that when police sealed off Mr Skripal’s home at the start of the investigation. there were two guinea pigs and a cat inside. The BBC understands the guinea pigs died of starvation and the cat, distressed from dehydration, was put down.

    ‘Propaganda war’

    Moscow called the special meeting of the Security Council in New York to discuss the attack, saying Britain had “legitimate questions” to answer.

    Mr Nebenzia said the accusations were “horrific and unsubstantiated”, and claimed the UK was waging a “propaganda war” against Russia.

    He said Novichok – the group of nerve agent used in the poisoning – is “not copyrighted by Russia, in spite of the obviously Russian name” and has been developed in many countries.

    “It’s some sort of theatre of the absurd. Couldn’t you come up with a better fake story?” he asked.

    In his statement to the 15-member council, Mr Nebenzia questioned why Russia would eliminate someone using a “dangerous and highly public” method.

    He contrasted the use of a chemical with the “hundreds of clever ways of killing someone” shown in British series Midsomer Murders.

    Responding, the British Ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, accused Russia of seeking to “undermine the international institutions that have kept us safe since the Second World War”.

    She said Russia came under suspicion for several reasons, saying it had “a record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations” and that it “views defectors as suitable targets for assassination”.

    Ms Pierce told delegates that Russia’s request to visit Ms Skripal had been passed on and “we await her response”.

    “Ms Skripal’s own wishes need to be taken into account,” Ms Pierce added.

    ‘Unprecedented’

    On Friday, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Russia’s comments were a “classic Russian attempt to obfuscate”.

    He said: “They are in a very serious position because it’s not just the UK that has taken action against them. In an unprecedented way, that did not even happen in the Cold War, 29 countries have withdrawn their diplomats.”

    He also said the UK had shared “highly classified information” with the other countries which was also “unprecedented”.

    Meanwhile, US representative Kelley Currie said Russia was attempting to use the Security Council “for political gains”, adding: “This is not a tactic that is appropriate for this body.”

    It comes amid an escalating diplomatic crisis between Moscow and the West as 60 expelled US envoys left Russia on Thursday.

    More than 20 countries have expelled Russian envoys in solidarity with the UK, following Britain’s initial expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.

    The UK government has constantly maintained Russia was behind the attack, claiming there is “no other plausible explanation”.

    Chemical weapons expert Hamish De Bretton Gordon said he had seen some of the intelligence in the Skripals’ case and was “100% sure” Russia was responsible.

    He told BBC Radio 5 live “we know almost 100%” that Novichok, which requires a “sophisticated laboratory, a lot of money, resources and expertise to make”, was made at Shikhany, a military facility “the size of Salisbury” in central Russia, and the agent used in the attack on the Skripals was “military grade”.

    He added: “We are talking a tiny amount [of Novichok], a quarter of an egg cup full which would be very easy to smuggle.”

    ‘Against transparency’

    On Wednesday, Russia proposed a joint investigation into the poisoning but the idea was voted down by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

    In a press conference, Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, said it marked a vote against “transparency”.

    Meanwhile on Thursday, in a statement issued through UK police, Ms Skripal thanked those who came to her and her father’s aid.

    It came shortly after Russian TV aired a recording of an alleged phone conversation between Ms Skripal and her cousin.

    Doubts were raised over the authenticity of the recording but the cousin, Viktoria, has told Newsnight she is 100% certain it was Yulia.

Spy poisoning: Russian diplomats expelled across US and Europe

The United States and its European allies are expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in a co-ordinated response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK.

US President Donald Trump has ordered 60 Russian diplomats to leave the country.

Germany, France, Ukraine, Canada and various European countries have also expelled envoys.

Russia called the moves a “provocative gesture” and vowed to retaliate.

Russia denies any role in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, southern England. The pair remain in a critical but stable condition in hospital.

The US action is also the biggest move against Russia since the Cold War era and the hostilities with the then Soviet Union.

The Russian foreign ministry said the moves demonstrated a continuation of a “confrontational path”.

“It goes without saying that this unfriendly act by this group of countries will not go without notice and we will react to it,” its statement said.

Who is expelling diplomats?

The UK announced it was expelling 23 Russian diplomats earlier this month.

Various countries announced they were making the same move in solidarity on Monday. These are:

  • US: 60 diplomats
  • EU countries: France (4); Germany (4); Poland (4); Czech Republic (3); Lithuania (3); Denmark (2); Netherlands (2); Italy (2); Estonia (1); Croatia (1); Finland (1); Latvia (1); Romania (1)
  • Ukraine: 13
  • Canada: 4

    Why are they doing it?

    President of the European Council Donald Tusk said 14 EU states had decided to expel Russian diplomats as a direct result of a meeting, held last week, about the Salisbury poisoning.

    “Additional measures, including further expulsions within this common EU framework are not to be excluded in the coming days and weeks,” he said.

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      The US state department said in a statement: “On March 4, Russia used a military-grade nerve agent to attempt to murder a British citizen and his daughter in Salisbury.

      “This attack on our Ally the United Kingdom put countless innocent lives at risk and resulted in serious injury to three people, including a police officer.”

      It called the attack an “outrageous violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and breach of international law”.

      The US is expelling 48 envoys at the Russian embassy in Washington and 12 more at the UN in New York. It will also order the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

      Remarkable show of solidarity

      By Jonathan Marcus, BBC diplomatic correspondent

      This is building into the most serious diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West since Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.

      Whatever the denials, Britain’s allies have clearly accepted its view that the use of a military grade nerve agent in Salisbury was “highly likely” the work of the Russian state.

      The collective expulsions from the US and 14 EU member states is a remarkable show of solidarity with Britain, even more so because it comes at a time when UK-EU relations are strained due to the Brexit negotiations.

      Donald Tusk’s note that there could be “additional measures” is a signal to Moscow as it considers how it will respond.

      It is a significant diplomatic victory for Prime Minister Theresa May – concerted action has now followed the strong rhetorical support from its allies. It also marks a significant toughening of the Trump administration’s stance towards Moscow.