US, France, Germany and UK blame Russia for nerve agent attack

UK, US, Germany and France unite to condemn spy attack

Joint statement deplores ‘assault on UK sovereignty’ and says only plausible explanation is that Russia is responsible

The leaders of Britain, the US, Germany and France have released a joint statement strongly condemning the Salisbury nerve agent attack as “an assault on UK sovereignty” and saying it is highly likely Russia was behind it.

The rare united comment from Theresa May, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, released by Downing Street, follows extensive UK efforts to drum up international support for its response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

The move, near-unprecedented in recent diplomacy, shows Britain’s bid to build a coalition against Russia as relations plunge to their worst since the Cold War.

The Prime Minister has been rallying global allies since she announced a crackdown yesterday, expelling 23 Russian diplomats, cutting high-level ties and boycotting the World Cup at ministerial level.

Now the leaders’ joint statement warns the attack with Russian-produced Novichok was the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.

Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Donald Trump agree “there is no plausible alternative explanation” other than that Russia was responsible for the attack.

“It is an assault on UK sovereignty,” the statement issued by Downing Street declares.

“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.”

US President Donald Trump said today: “We are in deep discussions, a very sad situation, it certainly looks like the Russians were behind it.”

And in a chilling warning of nuclear war, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg added: “Russia has integrated conventional and nuclear warfare in its military doctrine and exercises.

“This blurring of the line between nuclear and conventional lowers the threshold for Russia’s use of nuclear weapons.

“And the blurring of the line between peace, crisis, and war is destabilising and dangerous.”

Russia has promised swift retaliation and British diplomats are widely expected to be expelled from Moscow in the coming days.

Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly expressed “extreme concern” today amid claims he will personally choose what diplomatic revenge to take on the UK.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agency TASS: “A final decision [on retaliatory measures] will, of course, be made by the Russian president.

“There is no doubt that he will choose the variant that best of all corresponds to the interests of the Russian Federation.”

He said that Russia is “perplexed and does not comprehend the British leadership’s stance” and insisted the “accusations are unsubstantiated”.

Ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in a critical but stable condition 11 days after they were found slumped over a bench in Salisbury.

The Prime Minister visited the scene of the nerve agent poisoning for the first time today accompanied by police and the local MP.

She stood near the bench where the father and daughter were found, which is still covered by a police tent.

Mrs May told reporters: “We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen and despicable act that has taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city.”

The joint statement came after France backed Britain over the attack following a hurried phone call from Theresa May.

The Elysee Palace said there was no option but to believe Russia was behind the poisoning, hours after calling for more evidence and criticising Britain’s “fantasy politics”.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said if something “swims like a duck and quacks like a duck” it was probably a duck.

He told BBC Breakfast: “The evidence is overwhelming that it is Russia.

“There’s something by the way in the kind of smug, sarcastic response that we’ve heard from the Russians that to me indicates their fundamental guilt.”

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson added: “Frankly Russia should go away, it should shut up.”

Meanwhile a Labour row raged on after Jeremy Corbyn refused to lay the blame at Russia’s door.

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman – quoting the government’s original position from Monday – insisted it was possible Russia had simply lost control of the nerve agent into hostile hands.

As a backlash in the opposition party mounted last night, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry insisted there was “prima facie evidence” against Russia.

And in an interview with the Daily Mirror, Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith insisted: “Clearly, we are pointing the finger at Russia.”

Yet a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn reiterated this morning that there were still “two alternatives” – one of which being that Russia simply lost the nerve agent.

The statement in full

It says: “We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK, on 4 March 2018.

“A British police officer who was also exposed in the attack remains seriously ill, and the lives of many innocent British citizens have been threatened.

“We express our sympathies to them all, and our admiration for the UK police and emergency services for their courageous response.

“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.

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