Russia warns UK is 'playing with fire' over Salisbury nerve agent attack

Russia warns UK is 'playing with fire' over Salisbury nerve agent attack

Russia has warned Britain is "playing with fire and will be sorry" over the Salisbury poisoning as it emerged Yulia Skripal's strength is "growing daily".

The two countries referenced British dramas and the Nazis as they traded jibes at the United Nations, with the UK arguing that doubt should not be cast on the likelihood of Russian responsibility for the Novichok nerve agent attack and that British actions "stand up to any scrutiny".

But Russian UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzya pointed to Midsomer Murders and read from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland to mock suggestions of Russian involvement.

He claimed the UK's main argument about the "unquestionable Russian origin" of the Novichok is "no longer valid" following comments from Porton Down's Gary Aitkenhead.

Mr Nebenzya later accused the West of "using the method of Dr Goebbels - lies that are repeated a thousand times become the truth" by trying to manipulate people via the media.

The terse exchanges at the UN Security Council in New York capped another day of developments and diplomatic disagreements, which saw the first public comments emerge from Ms Skripal since the March 4 attack which left her and her father Sergei in intensive care.

Ms Skripal's remarks were released shortly after Russian TV reported that she had contacted a relative in Moscow to say she and her Russian spy father were recovering and that she would soon be discharged from hospital.

Moscow called the UN Security Council meeting to discuss the incident, with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov saying the UK has "legitimate questions" to answer about what happened.

But security minister Ben Wallace said it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that Russia was to blame for the attack, as the UK sought to maintain diplomatic pressure over the incident.

A 90-minute press conference at the Russian embassy in London also saw ambassador Alexander Yakovenko repeat Moscow's denial of responsibility for the attack.

On Wednesday, Russia lost a vote at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague on its demand for its experts to be involved in testing samples of the substance used in the Salisbury attack.

Ahead of the UN Security Council meeting, UK ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce told reporters: "Allowing Russian scientists into an investigation when they are the most likely perpetrators of the crime in Salisbury would be like Scotland Yard inviting in Professor Moriarty, so I don't think that's a tenable way forward."

But Mr Nebenzya said characters in Midsomer Murders knew "hundreds of very clever ways of killing someone" but those who sought to kill the Skripals "supposedly chose an extremely toxic chemical substance, the most risky, dangerous method possible" and "didn't really finish the job".

Mr Nebenzya criticised the sources of the British intelligence services, before adding: "Couldn't you come up with a better fake story?

"We all know what the worth of British intelligence information is based on the experience of Tony Blair. We have told our British colleagues that you're playing with fire and you'll be sorry."

Ms Pierce accused Russia of "turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons in Syria and in Salisbury", adding: "We believe the UK's actions stand up to any scrutiny."

Kelley Currie, US representative on the economic and social council at the UN, said: "Our support for the United Kingdom is unwavering and we continue to stand in absolute solidarity with our British colleagues."

Earlier Ms Skripal, 33, in her first statement since coming out of a coma, said: "I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily. I am grateful for the interest in me and for the many messages of goodwill that I have received."

In the statement released by the Metropolitan Police, she thanked healthcare workers at Salisbury District Hospital as well as "the people of Salisbury that came to my aid when my father and I were incapacitated".

And she said: "I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating, and I hope that you'll respect my privacy and that of my family during the period of my convalescence."

Russian media reported that Ms Skripal had told her cousin Viktoria that her father Sergei was "alright", adding: "Everyone is recovering, everyone survived ... No irreparable harm was done. That's all, I will soon be discharged from the hospital."

Mr Yakovenko initially said Russia would accept the findings of the OPCW investigation but wants to know who the experts are who are carrying out the testing.

Sergey Lavrov
Sergey Lavrov

Russian news agency Tass later reported that foreign minister Mr Lavrov told reporters on Thursday: "We will accept the results of any investigation in which we take an equal part and which is transparent, not a secret one."

He added: "Since March 12, we have sent more than 10 official notes requesting access to the investigation."

Mr Lavrov said the "requests have been flatly rejected".

Mr Yakovenko also said Russia had suspicions about a string of deaths of its nationals in the UK over the past decade, including businessman Nikolai Glushkov, whose body was discovered in his south London home last month.

"We have a lot of suspicions about Britain," said the ambassador. "If we take the last 10 years, so many Russian citizens died here in the UK under very strange circumstances ...

"My question is 'Why is it happening here?'"

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