A British lab could be the source of the deadly nerve agent that poisoned ex-spy Sergei Skripal, a top Russian diplomat has suggested.
Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, claimed there could be a link between the Novichok and world-class chemical weapons lab Porton Down because it is only eight miles from Salisbury.
Slamming the Tory Defence Secretary he added: “Russia is not going to shut up and will certainly not go away.”
The British government dismissed his claims as “nonsense”, saying they contain “not an ounce of truth”.
It comes as Theresa May considers sweeping new sanctions against Russian oligarchs two weeks after Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia were left in a critical condition in Salisbury.
The Prime Minister said the Russian state was behind the attack – the first use of a chemical weapon in Europe since World War 2.
She accused the regime of Vladimir Putin – who is standing for re-election today – of a “flagrant breach of international law” and said the nerve agent was of a “type developed by Russia”.
Asked how the nerve agent came to be used in Salisbury he told the BBC: “When you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories.
“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research.
“And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”
Pressed on whether he was claiming Porton Down was responsible he shrugged: “I don’t know, I don’t know… I don’t have evidence of anything being used.”
But he added: “There were certain specialists, including some scientists who today claim to be responsible for creating some nerve agents, that have been whisked out of Russia and are currently residing in the United Kingdom.”
The Foreign Office said there was “not an ounce of truth” in his suggestion of a link to Porton Down.
Moscow hit back yesterday by expelling 23 Brits, no longer allowing the UK to open a consulate in St Petersburg and terminating the British Council’s activities in Russia.
Experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are set to arrive in Britain tomorrow to test samples of the nerve agent, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said.
Mr Chizhov claimed Russia has never produced Novichok, saying it had “no stockpiles whatsoever” of any nerve agent and “Russia has stopped production of any chemical agents back in 1992”.
The ambassador said Skripal was a “traitor” but claimed he is now “almost forgotten” and was “officially pardoned by a Presidential decree”.
He condemned Britain for “flatly refusing” Moscow access to the nerve agent, which he said breached international protocol.
Mrs May, set to chair a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday, told Tory activists on Saturday: “We will consider our next steps in the coming days.”
Those reportedly include emergency laws to make it easier to seize money laundered through Britain by Russian residents; a stronger visa regime to stop Vladimir Putin’s cronies travelling to London, and forcing Russian oligarchs in the UK to account for “unexplained” wealth.
Banks, energy firms and water companies are reportedly on “maximum alert” to the threat of a cyber-attack.
Boris Johnson will seek to rally the support of the other 27 EU foreign ministers at a regular summit tomorrow.
The poisoning is not on the official agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, but ministers will discuss Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Mr Johnson will have a chance to meet them on the sidelines.
Today Mr Johnson hit back at Russia’s counter-measures as “futile”, saying “resisting a bully is always risky” but it is the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said Britain should “pull the plug” on state-funded, UK-based TV channel Russia Today.
She said the channel spouts “absurd conspiracies” and “poisons our public discourse”, adding: “Russia is industrialising false information: less an iron curtain these days than a web of lies”. (Mirror)