Russia has 'stopped paying attention' to Britain over spy poisoning allegations, says Sergei Lavrov

Foreign Minister responds to Gavin Williamson's suggestion that his country should 'go away and shut up' by speculating, 'Maybe he lacks education'

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 16 March 2018 08:30
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Russian Foreign Minister responds to Gavin Williamson: Russia has 'stopped paying attention'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has hit back at Theresa May and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson over allegations the country poisoned an ex-spy with a powerful nerve agent on British soil, saying the Kremlin has "stopped paying attention".

The attack on Sergei Skripal, 66, in an Italian restaurant in Salisbury and the PM's subsequent decision to expel Russian diplomats from the UK, backed by Western powers, has greatly angered Moscow ahead of the country's forthcoming presidential election this Sunday.

Speaking at a summit on the Syria crisis in Kazakhstan, Mr Lavrov was asked by reporters whether President Vladimir Putin's government intended to dismiss British diplomats in retaliation. "Of course we will", he replied, but declined to give further details other than to say it would happen "soon".

He also said he considered Ms May's response a violation of international agreements, according to Reuters.

He also turned his fire on Mr Williamson, who yesterday suggested that Russia should "go away and shut up" by speculating, "Maybe he lacks education."

Back in Moscow, Williamson was the subject of even more severe criticism from defence ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov, who likened him to a "market wench" and said he suffered from "extreme intellectual impotency", according to The Daily Mail.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson: 'Frankly, Russia should go away, and should shut up'

Skripal and his daughter Yulia, 33, remain gravely ill in hospital after coming into contact with a Russian-made toxin, Novichok, while enjoying Sunday lunch in a branch of Zizzi in the quiet Wiltshire cathedral town two weeks ago.

The US, France and Germany have presented a united front in support of Ms May's handling of the controversy, which has reminded many of the climate of intrigue that abided at the height of the Cold War.

A statement released by US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday read:

Theresa May orders biggest expulsion of Russian spies in 30 years in response to Salisbury poisoning

"The United Kingdom briefed thoroughly its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack.

“We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the UK Government further underlines its responsibility.

“We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury. Russia should in particular provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

For its part, Russia's response to the allegations against it has been indignant.

Russia's ambassador to the UK, Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko, yesterday described Ms May's expulsion of diplomats as "absolutely unacceptable" and "a provocation" and urged her to "follow international law".

Moscow's envoy to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, responded to Britain giving his country a 24-hour deadline to answer the poisoning accusations earlier this week by saying Russia "does not speak the language of ultimatums" and protesting that it had been asked to confess without being given the opportunity to carry out its own investigations.

Salisbury attack: Timeline of events

Theresa May continued the war of words by telling Parliament: "Their response demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events.

"They have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance."

Ms May visited Salisbury yesterday to meet with emergency services personnel and forensic investigators pursuing the Skripal affair.

The old city has been described as a "ghost town" following its dramatic turn in the international spotlight, with local shops, pubs and restaurants forced to advertise that they remain open for business despite fears over the spread of chemical contaminants as a result of the incident.

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