US, France, Canada and Germany pledge to join Theresa May's campaign against Russian GRU spy agency

The group of nations also backed the UK’s allegations that two Russian agents were behind the Salisbury novichok attack

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 06 September 2018 20:18
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Salisbury attack: Two Russian spies named as suspects in novichok poisoning case

The US, France, Canada and Germany have issued a joint statement pledging to take action with Britain to disrupt the activities of Russia’s GRU spy agency.

The group of nations also backed the UK’s allegations that two Russian agents from the intelligence organisation were behind the Salisbury novichok attack and that the operation was approved by Vladimir Putin’s government.

Ms May secured the joint position after speaking with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.

It reads: “We have full confidence in the British assessment that the two suspects were officers from the Russian military intelligence service also known as the GRU and that this operation was almost certainly approved at a senior government level.”

The statement goes on to say that the allies will “take action together to disrupt the activities of the GRU”.

Ms May had also spoken to US and Canadian leaders Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau the day before, with Britain, France and the US confronting Russia over the GRU’s involvement at the UN Security Council on Thursday afternoon.

Dame Karen Pierce, the UK’s representative, said Russia had “played dice with the lives of the people of Salisbury”.

“There is an established pattern of malign Russian behaviour perpetrated by military and intelligence agencies overseas,” she told the meeting.

The US “stands firm” with the UK, its permanent representative Nikki Haley told the council. “Everyone listening around the world should be chilled to the bone with the findings of this investigation,” she said.

Salisbury attack: Watch Theresa May's statement to parliament in full after Russian spies charged

The joint statement and diplomatic backing mirrors that which the other countries gave to Ms May in the initial fallout of the novichok attack, after which their leaders followed the UK’s lead in expelling Russian diplomats from their capitals.

On Wednesday in the house of commons, Ms May vowed that Britain would wage an international campaign to disrupt the Russian GRU spy agency behind the deadly Salisbury attack.

She said the UK would use its full range of security services – including MI5, MI6 and GCHQ – to expose its “malign activity” and “dismantle its networks”, after revealing how two of its agents were behind the chemical weapons incident.

[We will] take action together to disrupt the activities of the GRU

The joint statement from Britain, the US, France, Germany and Canada

The prime minister then signalled new sanctions against Russia, with government insiders suggesting key GRU figures could be targeted with travel bans and asset freezes.

She told MPs the agency is “a threat to all our allies and to all our citizens”, adding that Britain and its friends “must now step up our collective efforts, specifically against the GRU”.

Ms May said: “We are increasing our understanding of what the GRU is doing in our countries, shining a light on their activities, exposing their methods and sharing them with our allies, just as we have done with Salisbury.

“And while the house will appreciate that I cannot go into details, together with our allies we will deploy the full range of tools from across our national security apparatus in order to counter the threat posed by the GRU.”

Former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were left critically ill after being exposed to the military grade nerve agent novichok in March.

Although Ms May did not explicitly blame the Kremlin for authorising the attempted assassination, senior Conservatives directly accused Mr Putin of approving the operation.

Russia’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya accused Britain of using the Salisbury spy poisoning to unleash “disgusting anti-Russian hysteria,” during the Security Council session.

Mr Nebenzya claimed Britain was lying about the incident and attacked the latest updates as a “mendacious cocktail of facts,” and said the number of inconsistencies in the latest updates from the UK was “off the charts”.

The Russian embassy in the UK has accused the British authorities of being unwilling to engage with them and called on the government to “give up politicised public accusations”.

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