Russian ambassador claims UK has stocks of Novichok nerve agent, in extraordinary press conference

Alexander Yakovenko says Salisbury events ‘so complicated’ it would take someone like Hercule Poirot to solve

Tom Embury-Dennis
Thursday 22 March 2018 14:14
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Russian ambassador claims UK has stocks of Novichok nerve agent

Britain had stores of the Novichok nerve agent before the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, the Russian ambassador to London has claimed.

In an extraordinary and lengthy press conference, Alexander Yakovenko said the accounts around the events in Salisbury were so complicated it would take someone like fictional detective Hercule Poirot to solve the crime.

Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia are in a critical condition after collapsing on a bench on 4 March. Britain accuses Russia of attempted murder but Russia denies involvement and says Britain has no evidence.

The ambassador, who wished the Skripals a “speedy recovery”, said the Russians were unaware of the “motivation” of the British Government and its “classified” investigation. “This case is so complicated, we need, let’s say, some wisdom of a person like Poirot to investigate,” he said.

With what some might regard as considerable chutzpah, surely not lost on the 63-year-old, Mr Yakovenko accused the UK of a “bad record of violating international law and misleading the international community”. Russia, he added, “can’t take British words for granted”.

He continued: “History shows that British statements must be verified. We demand full transparency of the investigation and full cooperation with Russia.”

He even hinted Britain may have produced the nerve agent used in the attack.

“How that was possible that the British authorities managed to designate the nerve agent used as so-called ‘Novichok’ and its origin so quickly,” he said. “Could it mean that it is highly likely that the British authorities already had this nerve agent in their chemical laboratory in Porton Down?”

Mr Yakovenko, who appeared to enjoy himself in front of the cameras, responded with good humour to journalists’ questions as he attempted to shift public opinion over the incident in Salisbury.

The ambassador, who laughed repeatedly towards the end of the press conference, linked other Russian deaths on UK soil to British secret services, suggested the Government had given residence to Russian serial killers, and said Britain was trying to find a “new role in the world” after Brexit by taking an anti-Russia stance.

On Wednesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson compared the upcoming World Cup in Moscow to the 1936 Olympic Games under Adolf Hitler.

Mr Yakovenko hit back, telling reporters it was an “insult” to the “Russian people who defeated nazism and lost more than 25 million people”.

Despite Moscow’s claims of innocence, Lithuania’s President offered her full support to Theresa May and the British Government over its stance on the poisoning attack.

At a European Union summit in Brussels, Dalia Grybauskaite said she was “considering” expelling Russian diplomats from the country – a former Soviet state which shares a border with Russia’s western Kaliningrad enclave.

Ms May told EU leaders they must unite to counter the threat from Russia, and said the Salisbury incident “was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbours from the western Balkans to the Near East”.

Russian ambassador claims UK has stocks of Novichok nerve agent

Addressing the fallout over Cambridge Analytica, Mr Yakovenko insisted Russia had no links to the company at the centre of the Facebook data scandal.

Asked why he was pictured alongside Alexander Nix, the suspended chief executive of the firm, he said: “One day I was invited to the Windsor [polo] club, and the main prize was the Russian vodka, Ivan the Terrible. And the organisers asked me... why don’t you give the prize to all the members of the team.

“I gave the prize to maybe 10 people, 12 people, and that was the only time that I met this gentlemen. But the picture is good, I like it.”

Meanwhile, the British Council said in a statement it had cancelled all events and programmes in Russia after being told by its foreign ministry to cease activity.

“We deeply regret this and are grateful for your understanding,” the statement said.

The British Council, a state-funded body that promotes British culture overseas, has worked in Moscow continuously since 1959.

Additional reporting by agencies

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