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U.K. Russia Trade Blame For Spy Poisoning, Moscow Also Points At U.S.


British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in Parliament on March 21.

Britain has redoubled its accusations that Russian President Vladimir Putin's government was behind the poisoning of an ex-spy with a nerve agent in England, saying that the trail of responsibility leads to "those at the top" of the Russian state.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson spoke on March 21, shortly after Russia again denied involvement and asserted that Britain or the United States could be to blame for the attack that left former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in critical condition.

Speaking to a committee of lawmakers, Johnson said that responsibility leads "back to the Russian state and those at the top."

He said the timing of the attack appeared to have been "connected with the recent election in Russia," in which Putin won a new six-year term in a vote seen as a sham by his opponents.

"And as many non-democratic figures do when facing an election or facing some critical political moment, it is often attractive to conjure up in the public imagination the notion of an enemy," Johnson said.

Johnson said he believes Russia was sending a message to potential defectors and chose a target in Britain because of what he said was London's record of "calling out" abuses by Moscow.

"It's Britain that has been most forthright, and most obstinate in sticking up for our values," he said. "I think that is probably the reason why it was decided to make this gesture here in this country."

In Moscow, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official told foreign diplomats that "logic suggests that there are only two possible" conclusions: that Britain failed to avert the attack or was responsible.

"Either the British authorities are not able to provide protection from such a, let's say, terrorist attack on their soil, or they, whether directly or indirectly, I am not accusing anyone, have orchestrated an attack on a Russian citizen", Vladimir Yermakov.

Yermakov also pointed at the United States, saying that "this could have been orchestrated from across the pond. It is no secret to anyone that the U.K.'s closest partner is the only state officially keeping the largest arsenals of chemical weapons in the world."

Russia claims to have destroyed its entire arsenal of chemical weapons -- though Western officials have disputed that -- while the United States has not finished doing so under an international convention.

Yermakov, deputy head of the Foreign Ministry's department for non-proliferation, suggested that Russia will not recognize the results of an investigation being conducted by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He said that "unscrupulous efforts" to investigate the incident without sharing information about the probe with Moscow are "not going to work for us."

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of treason in 2006 after a court found that he passed the identities of Russian intelligence agents to Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, MI6.

He was one of four Russian prisoners released in 2010 in exchange for 10 Russian sleeper agents uncovered in the United States in one of the biggest spy swaps since the Cold War.

Skripal and his daughter, who had arrived from Moscow on March 3 to visit her father, were found collapsed on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury the following day.

Britain says they were exposed to a Soviet-designed military-grade nerve agent from a series known as Novichok.

Speaking in Japan on March 21, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Russia's complaint that the British accusation against Russia is premature, saying that the U.K. investigation is not finished.

He also said that Russia wants Britain to tell it where Sergei and Yulia Skripal are currently located.

"Overall there is no doubt that the current British leadership has consciously taken a course to undermine Russian-British relations," Lavrov said at a news conference with his Japanese counterpart, Taro Kono, in Tokyo.

Already severely strained relations between Russia and the West -- particularly Britain -- have been worsened by what officials say was the first known offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II.

After Russia ignored a demand that it provide an explanation of the poisoning, Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats it says were spies, and they returned to Russia on March 20. Britain has suspended high-level bilateral contacts with Moscow and announced that British ministers and the royal family will not attend the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.

Russia has retaliated by ordering the same number of British diplomats to leave Russia, canceling an agreement to reopen the British Consulate in St. Petersburg, and ordering the closure of the British Council -- which promotes cultural ties between the countries -- in Russia.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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