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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Russian offer for joint investigation into spy poisoning rebuffed

Country lost the vote with only six votes from 41 on the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, delivers a speech during the annual Moscow Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia. Reuters
Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, delivers a speech during the annual Moscow Conference on International Security in Moscow, Russia. Reuters

Russia’s attempt to convene a joint inquiry with Britain into the nerve gas attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last month fell flat at a special session of the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Wednesday.

The country had called for the meeting and made its offer, but received only six votes from the 41-strong council. It subsequently called for an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Thursday, in moves that were damned by Britain's foreign secretary as diversionary.

Boris Johnson said that “the purpose of Russia’s ludicrous proposal at The Hague was clear – to undermine the independent, impartial work of the international chemical weapons watchdog. Russia has had one goal in mind since the attempted murders on UK soil through the use of a military-grade chemical weapon – to obscure the truth and confuse the public.

“The international community has yet again seen through these tactics and robustly defeated Russia’s attempts today to derail the proper international process. It shows that many countries around the world continue to share our assessment of what happened in Salisbury and are determined to stand up to Russia’s behaviour.”

Russian officials had hoped to use the meeting of the UN-backed body that oversees chemical weapons treaties to table a motion involving Russia in the inquiry into the incident in English city Salisbury that has left Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia fighting for their lives. But the move was widely rebuffed.

“We will not agree to Russia’s demand to conduct a joint investigation into the attack in Salisbury because the UK – supported by many other countries – has assessed that it is highly likely that the Russian state is responsible for this attack,” a British representative, John Foggo, told the OPCW meeting. “To do so would be perverse.”

The OPCW's experts have taken samples from the site in Salisbury and sent them to certified laboratories for analysis, but the results are not expected until next week.

Russia called the meeting amid a new round of mudslinging at the UK following the admission by British investigators that it had not identified Russia as the source of the Novichok nerve agent. That led Russia's foreign intelligence agency chief to blame the US and the UK’s intelligence services for the attack.

"Even in the Skripal case, a grotesque provocation crudely concocted by US and British security services, some European governments are not following London and Washington blindly, but are instead choosing to carefully make sense of what happened,” Sergei Naryshkin said on Wednesday.

Britain believes it was "highly likely" Russia was behind the poisoning of Mr Skripal. Scientists at Britain's defence laboratory testing the nerve agent used in the attack said on Tuesday that it could not be proven the substance came from Russia.

However, the head of Porton Down laboratory, Gary Aitkenhead, said that a state actor was likely to be responsible.

Germany, one of the western countries that expelled Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning, said it still believed Russia had been involved.

"Nothing has changed," said government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer. "We share Britain's view that there is a high likelihood that Russia is behind it".

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Most EU countries expelled at least one Russian diplomat each in solidarity with the UK, while Britain's Nato ally, the US, expelled 60 and closed the Russian consulate in Seattle.

Mr Naryshkin said on Wednesday that Washington’s actions were moving Russia and the US back to the “dark times of the Cold War”.

"Washington has become fixated with the fight against a non-existent, so-called Russian threat. This has reached such proportions and acquired such absurd characteristics that it's possible to speak of a return to the dark times of the Cold War," he added.

Journalists wait outside the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, The Netherlands. EPA
Journalists wait outside the headquarters of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, The Netherlands. EPA

During a speech made at a security conference in Moscow, the spy chief warned against a “second Cuban Missile Crisis", referring to a confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union in 1962 believed to be the closest the Cold War came to nuclear conflict.

"It's important to stop the irresponsible game of raising stakes and to stop the use of force in relations between states, not to bring matters to a second Cuban Missile Crisis," he said.

The increased tensions between the Kremlin and the West come as Russia prepares to host the football World Cup in June.

The UK has already said no minister or member of the British royal family will be attending the football tournament.

The head of Russia's main domestic intelligence agency – the Federal Security Service – said on Wednesday he expected foreign governments to co-operate with Moscow on security matters to ensure a successful competition.

"This summer, Russia is hosting the soccer World Cup. We expect that our co-operation with the security services and law enforcement agencies of foreign governments will help protect this event from terrorist acts as effectively as in previous years," Alexander Bortnikov said.