Russia's request to play part in Salisbury nerve agent probe like arsonist ‘investigating own fire', says UK ambassador

The UK Ambassador to the UN says the UK will not take lecturing from Russia, which 'has done so much to block the proper investigation of chemical weapons in Syria'

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Thursday 05 April 2018 22:37 BST
UK ambassador to UN: Russia's request to play part in Salisbury nerve agent probe like arsonist ‘investigating own fire'

A UK official said that Russia asking to be involved in the investigation of the Salisbury nerve agent attack is akin to an arsonist "investigating his own fire".

A former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the UK city on 4 March and UK Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Pierce spoke on the matter today at a special meeting of the Security Council. Ms Pierce minced no words in a scathing indictment of Russia's alleged involvement in the attack on UK soil, saying: "Russia is playing fast and loose with the institutions that protect us".

Russia had also asked the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to be involved in the investigation into the use of the novichok nerve agent which left the Skripals and a local police officer in critical condition. The watchdog group rejected the request in a vote. Ms Pierce said Russia's "threats to the chemical weapons convention, in Syria, in Malaysia and now the UK place a very serious challenge to the non-proliferation regime that this organisation has constructed in response to the terrible events of the past".

Russia has been accused previously of condoning the regime of President Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical sarin gas in attacks in Syria and having knowledge or proof of it. Ms Pierce said yesterday at a Security Council meeting that "it is not just through actions in Syria that Russia's disdain for the international system manifests itself. The poisoning in Salisbury of two people with a military grade nerve agent endangered anyone who chanced to be in the vicinity”.

She said just ahead of today's meeting that "allowing Russian scientists into an investigation when they are the most likely perpetrators of the crime in Salisbury would be like Scotland Yard inviting in Professor Moriarty, so I don't think that's a tenable way forward".

The Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzya addressed the UK's accusations against his country: "Couldn't you come up with a better fake story?"

Boris Johnson says Porton Down told him 'categorically' the Novichok nerve agent used in Salisbury came from Russia

"We have told our British colleagues that you're playing with fire and you'll be sorry," Mr Nebenzya said. He pointed to the television programme Midsomer Murders and read from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland to mock suggestions of Russian involvement. He also claimed the UK's main argument about the "unquestionable Russian origin" of the novichok is "no longer valid" following comments from the Porton Down laboratory, where UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the novichok agent came from Russia.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May had been quick and unwavering in her assessment of Russia’s role in the incident which had left the town of Salisbury a "ghost town" as The Independent previously reported.

She called it a "brazen" act, expelled 23 Russian diplomats, and cut high-level contact with Moscow. “We consider this hostile action as totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted,” the Russian Embassy to the UK said in a statement, adding that “all the responsibility for the deterioration of the Russia-UK relationship lies with the current political leadership of Britain," Ms May said in the wake of last month's attack.

Mr Nebenzya then accused the west at large of "using the method of [Nazi propagandist Joseph] Goebbels - lies that are repeated a thousand times become the truth" by trying to manipulate people via the media. A US representative to the UN Kelly Currie said tersely: "This is not a tactic that is appropriate for this body".

Ms Pierce explained at the Security Council that the UK using the phrase "highly likely" to describe Russia's probability of guilt was significant, but that "only a court can find culpability" in a country with laws like the UK. She also said the UK will not stand for lecturing "from a country that, as this council debated yesterday, has done so much to block the proper investigation of chemical weapons in Syria".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said to the state-run TASS media agency that the country accept any results of an investigation, as long as it includes Russia, "not a secret one".

Earlier Ms Skripal said in her first statement since coming out of a coma: "I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily. I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received." Her father remains in a coma.

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