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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Russian embassy calls for meeting with UK foreign secretary

Russia calls relations with Britain 'utterly unsatisfactory' following poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal

Russian ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko speaks about the recent Salisbury poisoning. PA via AP / Yui Mok
Russian ambassador to the UK Alexander Yakovenko speaks about the recent Salisbury poisoning. PA via AP / Yui Mok

The Russian embassy in London has requested a meeting between ambassador Alexander Yakovenko and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to discuss the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.

"Unfortunately, the current state of the foreign office interaction with the embassy is utterly unsatisfactory. We believe that it is high time to arrange a meeting between Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in order to discuss the whole range of bilateral issues, as well as the investigation of the Salisbury incident," the Russian embassy said in a statement on its website.

"We hope that the British side will engage constructively and that such meeting is arranged shortly," the embassy added.

While the UK Foreign Office said it would respond to Russia's request "in due course", the government described Russia's response to questions about the chemical attack as "unsatisfactory".

“Now, after failing in their attempts in the UN and international chemical weapons watchdog this week and with the victims’ condition improving, they seem to be pursuing a different diversionary tactic," the Foreign Office said in an emailed statement.

Russia expert Martin McCauley said a high-level meeting would be a step forward.

“Up to the present it has been a dialogue of the deaf, with the Russians saying one thing and then Britain saying the opposite, and no communication whatsoever between the two governments or the foreign secretaries. So, it is a step forward,” Mr McCauley said.

If a meeting were to take place, Mr Johnson would likely reiterate the British view that Novichok, the nerve agent used in the poisoning, was manufactured in Russia while the Russians would disagree, he added.

“The Russians always deny that they are responsible,” Mr McCauley said.

The former double agent is “improving rapidly” after being poisoned on March 4.

“He is responding well to treatment, improving rapidly and is no longer in a critical condition,” Christine Blanshard, medical director at Salisbury District Hospital, said in a statement on Friday.

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Poisoned Russian spy no longer in critical condition

‘You’ll be sorry’ over Skripal accusations, Russia tells Britain

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Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury. Ms Skripal also remains hospitalised.

The UK has blamed Russia for the chemical attack, although scientists have not been able to identify Russia as the source of the nerve agent.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s position has been supported by more than 20 countries who plan to expel Russian diplomats.

The US also announced new sanctions on Friday against seven Russian oligarchs, 17 government officials and a dozen companies owned by the oligarchs.