In Boost for May, U.S. and Europeans Agree Russia Was Behind Spy Attack
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May won the support of key foreign allies for Britain’s assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government was responsible for the use of the nerve agent Novichok in the Salisbury spy poisoning.
In a joint statement, the U.S., France, Canada and Germany joined the U.K. in saying the attack was “almost certainly” approved at senior Russian government level, May’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters in London Thursday. The allies pledged to work together to tackle Russia’s espionage activities, and urged the Kremlin to provide details of its Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
“We have full confidence in the British assessment that the two suspects were agents of Russia’s military intelligence service, also known as GRU, and that this operation was with the greatest probability approved at high levels of the government,” the allies said in the statement, according to a copy released in Germany.
May spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, after talking to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday. She had already spoken to U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday.
CCTV images released by police showed two men, who had used the aliases Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov to enter the U.K., traveling to and from the southern city of Salisbury on the weekend the former spy, Sergei Skripal, was poisoned. One woman later died as a result of the poisoning and others were in a critical condition.
On Thursday, the countries agreed with May’s assessment from her intelligence agencies that the two men are agents in the Russian GRU military foreign intelligence service, which traces its roots to Soviet military intelligence.
The accord is a boost to May’s government before it presents its case to the United Nations Security Council, in particular its insistence on Russia involvement -- despite Russia providing almost 30 different explanations since March.
Before the statement, Russia again insisted it “had nothing to do with the events in Salisbury,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “Neither the top leadership of Russia nor those a level lower, no Russian officials had anything to do with the events in Salisbury. Any accusations against the Russian leadership in this are unacceptable to us.”
Earlier Thursday, U.K. Security Minister Ben Wallace said Russian President Vladimir Putin must “ultimately” bear responsibility because he is the head of state and there is a direct line of command from the Kremlin, through the military, to the GRU.
“I don’t think anyone can ever say Mr. Putin isn’t in control of his state,” Wallace told BBC Radio 4 on Thursday. “The GRU is without doubt not rogue, it is led, linked, to both the senior members of the Russian general staff and the defense minister and through that into the Kremlin and the president’s office.”
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