Russian Nuclear Horn Warns the UK

  • Russia warns against ‘threatening a nuclear power’
  • Trump leads allies’ backing of Britain and says ‘we’ll back you all the way’
  • May had issued a midnight deadline for Putin to explain what happened
  • Hundreds of Salisbury residents warned they could have contaminated clothing
  • Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia still alive

Russia has warned Britain to “consider the consequences” of mounting a retaliatory cyber strike and told Theresa May not to threaten a nuclear power.

In a fresh sign of the escalating diplomatic tension sparked by the case, the Russian Embassy cautioned against “such a reckless move”.

Theresa May has set Moscow a deadline of midnight on Tuesday to explain how a nerve agent was deployed against Sergei Skripal and his daughter on the streets of Salisbury.

If there is no credible response from the Kremlin, Mrs May has pledged to set out a “full range” of measures to be taken in response.

On a fast-moving day of developments and the ratcheting up of diplomatic tensions, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Rossiya 1 state TV: “One should not threaten a nuclear power”, particularly, she added,  in light of remarks made by Putin earlier this month in which he announced an array of new weapons.

She added: “When an foreign affairs body of a country is headed by people who have absolutely nothing to do with foreign policy, who built their career on populism…, it is normal for them to come out and start scare-mongering. Do not (try to) scare us,” apparently referring to Boris Johnson.

The UK Government has not publicly disclosed the options under consideration if Russia fails to meet its deadline, but reports on Tuesday suggested one possibility was a cyber counter-attack.

Responding to the speculation, the Russian Embassy in the UK issued extraordinary series of tweets: “Statements by a number of MPs, ‘Whitehall sources’ and ‘experts’ regarding a possible ‘deployment’ of ‘offensive cyber-capabilities’ cause serious concern.

“Not only is Russia groundlessly and provocatively accused of the Salisbury incident, but apparently, plans are being developed in the UK to strike Russia with cyber weapons.

“Judging by the statements of the Prime Minister, such a decision can be taken at tomorrow’s meeting of the National Security Council.

“We invite the British side to once again consider the consequences of such a reckless move.”

On Tuesday, the developments came thick and fast.

Allies back Britain

Britain’s international allies, led by the US, have responded with condemnation over the nerve agent attack.

Mrs May was assured of the backing of the US, Germany and France in calls to President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, according to Downing Street.

Mr Trump told Mrs May that “the US was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used”.

And the Baltic states, which border Russia, also offered their support in the wake of the attack.

Latvia said it was prepared to offer the “required support” and urged Nato and the EU to agree on action.

Second Russian death

In a further extraordinary development, a probe has been launched by counter-terrorism police amid reports a Russian exile who was a close friend of Putin critic Boris Berezovsky has been found dead.

Scotland Yard said a man in his 60s was found at a home in Clarence Avenue, New Malden, south-west London on Monday and that the cause of his death is unexplained.

The force said in a statement: “At this stage the Met Police Counter Terrorism Command is leading the investigation as a precaution because of associations that the man is believed to have had.

“There is no evidence to suggest a link to the incident in Salisbury.”

Lawyer Andrei Borovkov told Russian media outlets that his client, Nikolai Glushkov, the former deputy director of airline Aeroflot, had died.

But he said he was unaware of the time and circumstances.

Nerve agent warning

Beyond Mr Skripal and his daughter, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, one of the first responders to the incident, remain in hospital.

Thirty-five local residents have also been seen in hospital. Thirty-four have been released while one is still being monitored.

Separately, one of the inventors of the nerve agent has warned that tiny traces of the chemical could put hundreds of people at risk for years to come.

Dr Vil Mirzayanov was part of the team that developed Novichok in a Russian chemical weapons institute.

He later became so concerned about the damage it could cause he became a whistleblower and fled to America.

‘It’s the same as nerve gas but 10 times, at least 10 times, more powerful,’ he told Sky News.

The chemist warned that symptoms could develop even years after exposure to the substance, and that there is no cure.

Russia hits back

Russia had previously reiterated its innocence over the poisoning, saying Moscow is ‘not to blame’ for the nerve agent attack.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Moscow will only co-operate with Britain on the investigation if it receives samples of the nerve agent that is believed to have been used to target Mr Skripal and his daughter.

Mr Lavrov said that requests to see samples of the nerve agent have been turned down, which he called a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws the production of chemical weapons.

In a separate astonishing outburst on Tuesday morning, one Russian MP said that the PM herself was behind the attempted murder, comparing Mrs May to Hitler. 

May makes her move

In a startling statement on Monday evening aimed directly at the Kremlin, the Prime Minister said it was ‘highly likely’ Russia was responsible for the attempted murder of the former spy, calling it a ‘reckless’ act.

A failure by Russia to provide a “credible response” would lead her to view the attack in Salisbury as “an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom”, sparking undefined retaliatory measures.

Russia responded almost immediately, however, describing Britain’s reaction as a ‘circus show’.

‘There are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March,’ the PM said.

‘Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.’

President Vladimir Putin himself responded to a direct question over Russia’s involvement by saying: ‘You should first get things clear yourselves on the spot and after that we will discuss this with you.”

Boris Johnson had previously told the Russian ambassador that Moscow must ‘immediately provide full and complete disclosure’ of its Novichok nerve gas programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

On Monday, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee said the attempt on Mr Skripal’s life was ‘looking awfully like it was state-sponsored attempted murder’.

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