16 Mar 2018

Russian response to nerve attack 'cynical, sarcastic' - Ardern

7:50 pm on 16 March 2018

New Zealand has joined European leaders in backing a statement on the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: AFP

The leaders of the United States, Germany and France issued a statement today backing Britain's assessment that the attack on a former Russian spy in Britain could only have been carried out by Russia.

The four countries have issued a joint statement saying there "is no plausible alternative explanation".

The nerve agent was used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia Skripal, 33, in the city of Salisbury. Both remain in a critical condition in hospital.

The four nations said they "abhor the attack".

They condemned the "first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War", calling it an assault on UK sovereignty.

"It is an assault on UK sovereignty and any such use by a State party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all," the statement said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand supported the joint statement, saying "outrage at the brazen and callous use of chemical weapons in a UK town is fully justified".

"This attack left three people seriously injured, including a police officer who assisted at the scene, and potentially threatened many more."

She called the incident a "serious affront" to global rules and norms.

"The use of chemical weapons in any circumstances is totally repugnant, and New Zealand is deeply disturbed at any use of chemical substances banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention."

New Zealand supported the UK's sovereign right to take any action it considered appropriate in response, Ms Ardern said.

"Despite the international outcry, the Russian reaction has been cynical, sarcastic and inadequate.

"There is no plausible alternative explanation hitherto, that this came from anywhere other than Russia, and no doubt whatsoever that Russia has serious questions to answer."

The statement issued earlier today by the US, Germany and France urged Russia to "address all questions related to the attack" and provide all details about the nerve agent used.

It added: "Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behaviour.

"We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council to uphold international peace and security."

The UK yesterday expelled 23 Russian diplomats who it said had been operating as "undeclared intelligence officers". On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May gave them one week to leave, in the largest mass expulsion in the UK in more than 30 years.

"We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen, brazen act and despicable act," Mrs May said during a visit to the site of the attack in Wiltshire.

Other measures taken against Russia include:

  • Increased checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • The freezing of Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten life or property in the UK
  • The suspension of all planned high-level bilateral contacts
  • A World Cup boycott by ministers and the Royal Family.
  • The UK will also create a new chemical weapons "defence centre"

Announcing the new chemical weapons centre, UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told Russia to shut up and go away.

"It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that.

"Frankly, Russia should go away, it should shut up, but if the do respond to the action we've taken we'll consider it carefully and we'll look at our options."

The facility is to be located at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, where scientists helped identify the nerve agent used against Mr Skripal.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump said "it certainly looks like the Russians were behind it".

Mr Trump said it was a "very sad situation" that the US was taking "very seriously".

Separately, the US has announced sanctions against Russian individuals and entities accused of trying to influence the 2016 election and carrying out cyber-attacks.

Russia's response

Russian Deputy Chief of the Presidential Executive Office, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.

Russian Deputy Chief of the Presidential Executive Office, Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. Photo: AFP

Russia has denied any involvement and vowed a swift response to the expulsion of its diplomats.

The Russian embassy in London said the decision to expel its diplomats was "unacceptable, unjustified and short-sighted".

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the UK was being "absolutely irresponsible". Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov vowed a response "very soon".

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also denied that either the Soviet Union or Russia ever had a programme to create the Novichok nerve agent identified as having been used, the Interfax news agency reported.

It also suggested on its Twitter feed that the UK could have the capacity to manufacture the nerve agent used in Salisbury.

It said Russia closed all Soviet-era chemical weapons programmes in 1992 and some of the scientists involved were flown to other countries, including the UK.

"To identify a substance, formula and samples are needed - means UK has capacity to produce suspected nerve agent," it said.

Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko also told Russian TV that the embassy had received threats against its diplomats and said it was working with UK police, Russia's Tass news agency reported.


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