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A police officer guards a cordoned-off rubbish bin in Salisbury, England
Image: Reuters/H. Nicholls

UK and Russia at odds over new Novichok poisoning

July 5, 2018

British PM Theresa May has said it is "deeply disturbing" that two more people have been exposed to the Novichok nerve agent. It still remains unclear how the couple came into contact with the dangerous substance.


British and Russian ministers traded tense statements on Thursday, after it was revealed that two British citizens fell sick after being exposed to the Novichok nerve agent this week.

Although British officials do not believe the latest case was a deliberate attack, they've called on Moscow to explain the use of the nerve agent that was also used to poison former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March in the city of Salisbury.

British politicians demand answers from Moscow

  • The nerve agent that poisoned two people on Saturday was the same variety used against Skripal and his daughter. However, it's not clear if the two samples are from the same batch, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament.
  • Javid accused the Russian government of "reckless and callous" use of the nerve agent during the alleged attack on the Skripals in March, saying "it is now time that the Russian state comes forward and explains what has gone on."
  • Javid cautioned against jumping to conclusions, but said if Russia is responsible for the latest poisonings, the UK "will be considering what further action we can take."
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May said authorities will "leave no stone unturned" in investigating the latest poisonings and described the latest case as "deeply disturbing" during a visit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

How has Russia responded?

  • Russia, which is currently hosting the World Cup, has denied any involvement in the March incident or the one that occurred on Saturday.
  • "We urge British law enforcement not to get involved in dirty political games that certain powers in London have already begun and instead finally cooperate with Russian law enforcement in their investigations," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters. She also said the British government "will have to apologize to Russia and the international community."
  • Russia has also previously suggested that British security services carried out the attack in order to stoke anti-Russian sentiments.

Couple poisoned after chance encounter: A 45-year-old man and a 44-year-old woman who have not yet been identified by authorities fell unconscious on Saturday in a quiet neighborhood of Amesbury in the county of Wiltshire, just 12 kilometers (8 miles) from Salisbury, where the Skripals were poisoned.

British authorities have restricted access to several areas as they check for traces of the nerve agent, including a park in Salisbury as well as a pharmacy in Amesbury.

What is Novichok? Novichok substances are a series of highly toxic, military-grade nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. They also take a long time to decompose, leading British authorities to believe certain areas in Salisbury may still be contaminated.

The Skripal poisonings: Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury in March. Authorities found they had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent in the first known chemical weapons attack on European soil since World War II. A diplomatic crisis was sparked after May's government said Russia was responsible for the attack, which led both sides to expel diplomats.

rs/kms (AFP, Reuters)