Global leaders back UK findings on Novichok attack

Britain, the United States, France, Germany and Canada say attack suspects were officers from Russia’s military intelligence service

London: The leaders of Britain, the United States, France, Germany and Canada said on Thursday they had “full confidence” that the Novichok attack suspects were officers from Russia’s military intelligence service.

In a joint statement reiterating their “outrage”, the five leaders also said they were completely confident the attempted killing of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal on British soil in March “was almost certainly approved at a senior government level” in Russia.

They also urged Moscow to come clean to the organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) about its Novichok programme.

The leaders added they would strengthen their activities to defend their societies against “malign state activity” and disrupt the hostile actions of foreign intelligence networks.

“We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, reiterate our outrage at the use of a chemical nerve agent, known as Novichok, in Salisbury on March 4,” they said in the statement, issued in London.

They welcomed the progress made in the investigation and the attempted murder charges brought against Russian suspects Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, announced by Britain on Wednesday.

They also noted the OPCW’s findings that “the exact same chemical nerve agent” was used in the fatal poisoning of Dawn Sturgess. She was the girlfriend of Charlie Rowley, who had picked up a fake perfume bottle containing Novichok.

“We urge Russia to provide full disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW,” they said.

“We have full confidence in the British assessment that the two suspects were officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU, and that this operation was almost certainly approved at a senior government level.”

They said the mass expulsion of undeclared GRU officers in Russian embassies in the wake of the Salisbury attack had disrupted the service’s activities.

“Yesterday’s announcement further strengthens our intent to continue to disrupt together the hostile activities of foreign intelligence networks on our territories, uphold the prohibition of chemical weapons, protect our citizens and defend ourselves from all forms of malign state activity directed against us and our societies.”

A Downing Street spokesman said Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to US President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Canadian leader Justin Trudeau Wednesday and French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier Thursday.

Ex Russian spy’s niece begs him to call mother

Moscow: Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal’s niece on Thursday begged her uncle, who was poisoned in Britain, to call his 90-year-old mother to prove he was alive.

Speaking at an emotional news conference in Russia, Victoria Skripal said she was in touch with Skripal’s daughter Yulia, but that the family had not heard from him for more than half a year. Skripal’s 90-year-old mother needed to hear from the former agent, she said. “She is waiting for his phone call. She needs nothing else. She needs one phone call from her son,” Victoria said, adding that Skripal used to call his mother every two weeks.

She also pleaded with Yulia to send the family a picture of her 67-year-old father. “Show us that he is alive,” Victoria said.

She confirmed direct contacts with Yulia, suggesting she was still in Britain because their phone calls came from a British number. “Now she uses this number all the time,” said Victoria, though the number could not be called back.

She said Yulia told her that she felt fine, was “recovering” and went jogging in the morning.

Yulia planned to return to Russia once her father gets better, Victoria added. She added that ahead of the World Cup in Russia two months ago, Yulia had met with a friend from there who brought her buckwheat, a local staple. “They met but not where she lives, just in London,” Victoria said.

On Wednesday, Britain accused two Russian military intelligence agents of using Novichok, a Soviet-designed nerve agent, to poison Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. British officials said the Russian state and “ultimately” President Vladimir Putin was responsible for the March attack. Sergei and Yulia Skripal are under the British government’s protection. Victoria said she did not know the suspects, and thanked Russian authorities and Putin personally for helping her. “I have only seen help from the Russian state,” she said.

In May, Yulia released a video statement that asked media and others to respect her family’s privacy. –AFP


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