The FINANCIAL — Allies expressed support for Britain after it announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the alleged poisoning of a former spy with a Russian-made nerve agent, but offered no quick response to the incident.
The White House issued a statement late on March 14 saying “the United States stands in solidarity with its closest ally…and shares the United Kingdom’s assessment that Russia is responsible for the attack” on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southern English city of Salisbury.
The White House called the diplomatic expulsion a “just response” for Russia’s “latest action,” which it said “fits into a pattern of behavior in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes.”
But while the White House said it is “working together” with allies “to ensure that this kind of abhorrent attack does not happen again,” it offered no immediate response to the incident, according to RFE/RL.
France had a similar reaction, expressing support and concern on Britain’s behalf, but promising only to “coordinate our response…in coming hours.” A statement from French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian late on March 14 did not even mention Russia.
Russia exchanged verbal blows with Britain and its allies at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council late on March 14, which Britain’s UN ambassador said he called in an effort to hold Russia accountable for the poisoning incident.
British Prime Minister Theresa May earlier in the day had announced not only the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats in 30 years, but the suspension of planned high-level contacts with Russia and a freeze on some Russian state assets in Britain.
Britain’s UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen accused Russia of being in violation of the UN’s chemical weapons convention for not declaring that it had developed the weapons-grade nerve agent known as Novichok that he said was used to poison the Skripals.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya denied the allegation and accused Britain of creating a “hysterical atmosphere” over the poisonings.
Nebenzya said Britain has refused to provide Russia with the evidence it says it has that Novichok was used.
Russia and China together co-sponsored a resolution they put before the UN council calling for an international investigation of the incident, but it was batted down by Britain and the United States.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said the Salisbury incident was “part of an alarming increase in the use of chemical weapons” recently, including reports of chemical use in Syria.
“A growing concern in all of this dangerous and destabilizing activity is Russia,” she said, calling on Russia to turn over all information related to its development of Novichok to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
“We take no pleasure in having to constantly criticize Russia, but we need Russia to stop giving us so many reasons to do so,” Haley said.
U.S. would stop complaining about Russia “if the Russian government stopped using chemical weapons to assassinate its enemies, and if the Russian government stopped helping its Syrian allies to use chemical weapons to kill Syrian children,” Haley said.
“The credibility of this council will not survive if we fail to hold Russia accountable,” she said.
Earlier in the day, May told Parliament that Russia had provided no credible explanation for the incident and “treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.”
May had given Moscow a deadline of midnight on March 13 to explain how the rare nerve agent made its way to England.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping mall in Salisbury on March 4. They remain hospitalized and in critical condition, along with a British police officer involved in their rescue.
Skripal, a retired Russian military intelligence colonel, was convicted by a Moscow military court in 2006 of “high treason” for passing secrets to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service.
He was one of four Russian prisoners released in 2010 in exchange for 10 Russian sleeper agents detained in the United States. He later became a British citizen, British authorities said.
With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, Sky News, and dpa