Latest: Russian ambassador accuses UK of destroying evidence in Skripal poisoning case

Latest: Russian ambassador accuses UK of destroying evidence in Skripal poisoning case

Update - 1.45pm: Russia's ambassador has accused the British authorities of destroying evidence in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Alexander Yakovenko said the UK had yet to produce the evidence to back its claims that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

"The British Government still hasn't produced any evidence in support of its position that would confirm their official version," he told a news conference at the Russian embassy in London.

"We get the impression the British Government is deliberately pursuing the policy of destroying all possible evidence."

Mr Yakovenko complained at the continued refusal of the British authorities to grant consular access to Ms Skripal following her discharge from hospital.

He questioned the authenticity of a statement issued by Ms Skripal through the Metropolitan Police saying she did not want to meet Russian officials.

"We are not allowed to see our citizens, talk to doctors, have no idea about the treatment the Russian nationals receive," he said.

"We cannot be sure that Yulia's refusal to see us is genuine. We have every reason to see such actions as the abduction of two Russian nationals.

"The statement made by Scotland Yard on behalf of Yulia Skripal only confirms our suspicions."

Mr Yakovenko complained they had not received the allegations in Sir Mark Sedwill's letter from the British authorities.

"It is not the right way how the serious people handle these issues," he said.

He described Sir Mark's claim that Russian intelligence had been interested in the Skripals since at least 2013 as a "big surprise".

"If somebody was spying why were the British services not complaining about that because they always complain if something goes wrong in their country or somewhere else," he said.

The ambassador also denied that Russia had ever produced or stockpiled Novichok nerve agents.

"Russia stopped any chemical programmes in 1992. In 2017 we eliminated all the chemical weapons," he said.

"We didn't produce Novichok, we didn't store this Novichok, so-called under the Western classification, was never in our military forces. This is the fact of life."

1.07pm: UK says Russia spied on the Skripals for at least five years

Russian intelligence agencies have been spying on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter for at least five years, Britain has said in the latest twist in the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Britain's National Security Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill said cyber specialists from the GRU - Russian military intelligence - targeted Yulia Skripal's email accounts as far back as 2013.

In a letter to Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Sir Mark also said that in the 2000s the Russians had begun a programme to train personnel from "special units" in the use of chemical warfare agents.

He said that it included investigating ways of delivering nerve agents by applying them to door handles. The strongest concentration of the Novichok nerve agent found in the Salisbury incident was on the front door of Mr Skripal's home.

Latest: Russian ambassador accuses UK of destroying evidence in Skripal poisoning case

The claims come after the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons backed Britain's assertion the Skripals were poisoned by Novichok - a military grade nerve agent developed by the Russians in the 1980s.

In his letter, Sir Mark set out why the British Government believes that only Russia has the "technical means, operational experience and the motive" to carry out such an attack - including some declassified intelligence material.

He said Russia had a "proven record of conducting state-sponsored assassination" and that it was "highly likely" some defectors - like Mr Skripal, a former GRU officer who was exchanged in a spy swap in 2010 - may be regarded as "legitimate targets".

"We have information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals dating back at least as far as 2013, when email accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU cyber specialists," he said.

Sir Mark also identified the key institute for developing Novichok in the former Soviet Union as a branch of the State Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology at Shikany near Volgograd.

Latest: Russian ambassador accuses UK of destroying evidence in Skripal poisoning case

"The code word used for the offensive chemical weapons programme (of which the Novichoks were one part) was FOLIANT," he said.

"It is highly likely that Novichoks were developed to prevent detection by the West and to circumvent international weapons controls."

He said that Russia had continued to produce and stockpile small quantities of Novichoks within the last decade.

"We therefore continue to judge that only Russian has the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals and that it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible," he said.

"There is no plausible alternative explanation."

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