British PM says ‘highly likely’ Russia responsible for nerve agent poisoning

British PM says ‘highly likely’ Russia responsible for nerve agent poisoning

March 13, 2018

The Raw Data

Unspun and unbiased. These are the facts.

British Prime Minister Theresa May addressed Members of Parliament in the House of Commons on Monday, saying it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible” for the March 4 poisoning and attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. May called the attack “an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk.” Russia has denied responsibility.

According to May, the U.K.’s Porton Down laboratory positively identified the chemical used in the attack as a “Novichok” nerve agent. She said that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had contacted the Russian ambassador, requiring Moscow to provide a “full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons” by the end of Tuesday. (More below)

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the incident was “another information and political campaign based on provocation.” A representative for Russia’s upper parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Vladimir Dzhabarov, said, “This already is not our issue,” adding that Skripal “had access neither to our secrets nor facilities.”

The nerve agent

The group of Novichok chemicals (Russian for “newcomer”) were produced in the 1970s and 1980s by Soviet Union laboratories. The agents block the breakdown of a neurotransmitter that controls muscular contractions, which leads to respiratory and cardiac arrest, according to Vil Mirzayanov, a chemist who helped develop the chemicals and who spoke to investigators following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

BBC reported that the agents may come in liquid form, and The New York Times reported the chemicals are powders.

The victims

Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found unconscious on a park bench outside a shopping mall in the British town of Salisbury. Sergei Skripal was once a colonel with a Russian military intelligence service. He was jailed in 2006 for providing information to the British intelligence service M16, according to Russian state media accounts of a closed hearing. He was released in 2010 as part of an exchange for Russian spies arrested by the FBI, CNN reported. Both Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition.

Nearly two dozen people, including emergency workers, were given medical treatment following the poisoning. Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, who came into contact with the nerve agent, was hospitalized and remains in serious condition. He has been able to speak with visitors, according to CNN.

Update: On Wednesday, May said Britain would expel 23 Russian diplomats in response to the attack, saying it represented “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.” 

Watch Prime Minister May’s speech here.

Sources: BBC, CNN, The Guardian, The New York Times