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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

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

It was the second showdown between the countries at the United Nations since the March 4 nerve agent attack

Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia holds up a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as he speaks during a Security Council. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Vassily Nebenzia holds up a copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as he speaks during a Security Council. AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Russia told Britain at the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that “you’re playing with fire and you’ll be sorry” over its accusations that Moscow was to blame for poisoning a former Russian spy and his daughter.

It was the second showdown between Russia and Britain at the world body since the March 4 nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in an English town. Russia, which requested Thursday’s council meeting, denies any involvement.

Moscow has also rejected a report in The Times newspaper which cited British security sources saying they believed the Novichok chemical used in the poisoning was manufactured at the Shikhany facility in central Russia's Saratov region.

"This laboratory was never part of the scope of our work," Mikhail Babich, the Kremlin's envoy in the Volga Federal District, told Interfax news agency on Friday.

"All the bases where chemical weapons were stored are well-known. Shikhany is not one of them," said Mr Babich, who is the former chairman of the state commission for chemical disarmament.

The Times said the facility was the Russian equivalent of Britain's Porton Down defence laboratory.

The attack on the Skripals has had major diplomatic ramifications, with mass expulsions of Russian and Western diplomats. The 15-member Security Council first met over the issue on March 14 at Britain’s request.

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“We have told our British colleagues that ‘you’re playing with fire and you’ll be sorry’,” Russian UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said during a more than 30-minute speech that attempted to poke holes in Britain’s allegations against Moscow.

He suggested that anyone who watched television crime shows like Britain’s Midsomer Murders would know “hundreds of clever ways to kill someone” to illustrate the “risky and dangerous” nature of the method Britain says was used to target Mr Skripal.

British police believe a nerve agent was left on the front door of the Salisbury home where Mr Skripal lived after he was freed in a spy swap. He was a military intelligence colonel who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain’s MI6 spy service.

“We believe that the UK’s actions stand up to any scrutiny,” British UN ambassador Karen Pierce told the Security Council. “We have nothing to hide ... but I do fear that Russia might have something to fear.”

Russia called for a joint inquiry into the poisoning of the Skripals at the global chemical weapons watchdog on Wednesday but lost a vote on the measure.

“Allowing Russian scientists into an investigation where they are the most likely perpetrators of the crime in Salisbury would be like Scotland Yard inviting in Professor Moriarty,” Ms Pierce told reporters earlier on Thursday, citing a character from Sherlock Holmes.

At the end of the council meeting, Mr Nebenzia read a passage from the novel Alice in Wonderland about a trial where the Queen demands the sentence first and the verdict afterward. “Does that remind you of anything?” he added.

Ms Pierce responded: “There is another very good quote from Alice in Wonderland which is: ‘sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast’ so I think that’s the quote the suits my Russian colleague best.”

In a separate development, Russia's defence ministry's official newspaper said on Friday that inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) conducted an inspection at an undisclosed location in Russia in the past week.

It was not clear if the inspection was linked to the nerve agent poisoning, or if it was routine.

The OPCW, headquartered in The Hague, has been involved in the Skripal investigation and an English court last month gave its experts permission to test blood samples taken from the Skripals. OPCW inspectors are also looking into the toxin used in the attack.

The Russian Defence Ministry's official newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star), on Friday published a graphic showing events over the past week which included a mention of a visit to Russia by an "inspection group of the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW".