EU demands Russia urgently hands over all information on Novichok nerve agent programme

Boris Johnson said Russia is 'not fooling anyone' with denials of responsibility

Jon Stone
Monday 19 March 2018 11:13 GMT
Vladimir Putin dismisses 'nonsense' of Russian involvement in Salisbury poisoning

The European Union has demanded that the Russian government hand over for scrutiny all information about the nerve agent that allegedly poisoned a former spy on British soil.

At a meeting in Brussels on Monday the EU’s 28 foreign ministers condemned the “reckless and illegal” poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal and said information about the Novichok nerve agent should be handed over to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigation.

The UK says the Russian-developed nerve agent was responsible for the attempted killings and that all signs point to Vladimir Putin’s government being behind the incident in Salisbury on 4 March this year. Russia says allegations that it carried out the attack are “slanderous, groundless, and difficult to explain”, and has said that any stockpiles of Novichok would have been destroyed in accordance with international treaties.

EU foreign ministers’ joint statement stopped short of directly blaming Russia in the way the UK government has, however, only stating that the “European Union takes extremely seriously the UK Government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible”.

Foreign ministers were briefed by Boris Johnson on the issue before drawing up the joint statement. European Commission foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said arriving at the summit that the EU pledged “full solidarity” with the UK and said there was “extreme concern” about what happened.

“The European Union is shocked at the offensive use of any military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, for the first time on European soil in over 70 years,” the joint statement says.

“The use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances is completely unacceptable and constitutes a security threat to us all. Any such use is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, a breach of international law and undermines the rules-based international order.

“The EU welcomes the commitment of the UK to work closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in supporting the investigation into the attack. The Union calls on Russia to address urgently the questions raised by the UK and the international community and to provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme to the OPCW.

“The European Union expresses its unqualified solidarity with the UK and its support, including for the UK’s efforts to bring those responsible for this crime to justice. The EU will remain closely focussed on this issue and its implications.”

Arriving at the summit Mr Johnson the Foreign Secretary warned the Russian government that it is “not fooling anyone” with its “increasingly absurd” denials of culpability for use of a nerve agent on British soil.

He added that he had been “heartened” by support for the UK and that Britain was acting “in punctilious accordance with our obligations under the treaty on chemical weapons” – in contrast, he said, to Russia.

Officials from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are arriving in the UK today to take samples of the nerve agent used in the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, he confirmed. The British government says the substance is Novichok, a Russian-developed weapon, but Russia has denied have any stockpiles of it.

“The Russian denials grow increasingly absurd. At one time they say they never made Novichok, at another they say they did make Novichok but all the stocks have been destroyed, and then again they say that they made Novichok and all the stocks have been destroyed but some of them have mysteriously escaped to Sweden, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, the United States, or even the United Kingdom,” he told reporters on the summit doorstep.

Boris Johnson addresses reporters in Brussels

“I think what people can see is that this is a classic Russia strategy of trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation. What really strikes me talking to European friends and partners today is that 12 years after the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko in London they’re not fooling anybody anymore.

“There is scarcely a country around the table here in Brussels that has not been affected by some kind of malign of disruptive Russian behaviours. That is why I think the strength and resolve of our European friends is so striking today.”

Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis told reporters as he arrived: “We think now the time is for an extended examination of all the elements involved with the participation of the OPCW. We are definitely going to keep the issue under consideration in the context of the EU, we’ll see.”

EU foreign affairs chief Ms Mogherini said: “We have a particularly intense agenda today with the ministers. First and foremost we’ll hear from Boris Johnson for a debrief on Salisbury.

“I would expect that well say something in the course of the morning so you’ll hear a renewed EU position in that respect. What is absolutely clear is our full solidarity with the United Kingdom and our extreme concern about what has happened, that is extremely unacceptable.”

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