Russia’s UN ambassador has requested the United Nations Security Council convene a special meeting for Thursday afternoon amid an ongoing diplomatic feud with the UK that began in an English country town and has spread to include London’s allies around the world.
A month after former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the British town of Salisbury, the United Kingdom and Russia remain locked in battle over who to blame.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said it was “highly likely” the attack was ordered by the Russian government, but the Kremlin has repeatedly denied the accusation. At one point, the Russians suggested the United Kingdom itself might have been involved in the poisoning.
“In keeping with the principle, shared by us, that the use of chemical weapons by anyone and anywhere is inadmissible and must be investigated and punished … (we) ask you to convene an open session of the UN Security Council,” Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told a Security Council meeting on Wednesday, according to Russian state news agency TASS.
Both Skripal and his daughter remain in hospital. Skripal is described as in a critical but stable condition according to Salisbury District hospital. UK experts believe the pair were poisoned with a Russian-made nerve agent, Novichok.
The Times of London reported on Thursday that UK security services have pinpointed the location of the Russian laboratory which manufactured the nerve agent, citing unnamed sources.
A meeting on Thursday would be the second time the Security Council has met to discuss the poisoning. In the previous meeting on March 15, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley blasted the Russian government for the attack and called for a firm international response.
Putin: Common sense must prevail
On Wednesday, speaking at a trilateral summit with Turkey and Iran, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters he wanted to see “sound political processes based on international law.”
“We are waiting for common sense to prevail in the end and for no more harm to be caused to international relations, contrary to what we saw lately,” Putin said, according to TASS.
A proposal from Moscow to conduct an investigation jointly with the UK was voted down by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Wednesday. The OPCW is already carrying out its own investigation at the UK’s request, and expects to receive the results of its analysis within a week.
The UK responded to the attack by expelling 23 Russian diplomats, sparking a wave of similar diplomatic expulsions by UK allies around the world. Last week the US expelled 60 Russian diplomats.
Moscow in turn expelled diplomats from at least 23 countries. Included in that retaliatory move were 60 American diplomats and the closure of the US consulate in St Petersburg.
Senior Russian officials continued to condemn the United Kingdom. On Wednesday Foreign Intelligence Service Director Sergei Naryshkin told a security conference in Moscow that the nerve agent attack was a “grotesque provocation rudely staged by the British and US intelligence agencies,” according to TASS.
“Some European countries are in no hurry to follow London and Washington, preferring to sort the situation out,” he added.
Questions around nerve agent’s source
UK police said the military grade nerve agent was placed on Skripal’s front door, and was likely the point where he first came in contact with the substance. He and his daughter were later found slumped on a bench at an outdoor shopping complex, police said.
Questions continue to dog the investigation. On Tuesday, UK scientists said that while they were able to ascertain the nerve agent as Novichok, they were unable to say exactly where it had been manufactured.
“We have not identified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific info to government, who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions you have come to,” Gary Aitkenhead, chief executive of Porton Down laboratory, told Sky News Tuesday.
A UK government spokesperson said in a statement Tuesday that analysis was “only part of the … picture.”
“Within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents probably for assassination — and as part of this program has produced and stockpiled small quantities of Novichoks,” the statement said.
In its report on Thursday, the Times of London cited security sources claiming that the location for the manufacture of the Novichok had been located.
“(They) were able to identify the source using scientific analysis and intelligence in the days after the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal a month ago,” the newspaper reported.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office told CNN they wouldn’t comment on The Times’ report. “We have nothing more to add to that story,” a spokesman said Wednesday.
The Times said security sources didn’t have “100% certainty” but there was a high degree of confidence in the location. The UK government had known about the facility’s existence before the attack on March 4, it added.