Russia will not respond to Theresa May’s midnight ultimatum over the poisoning of a former spy in Salisbury, the Russian foreign ministry has said, unless it is given samples of the nerve agent used in the attack.
In a statement, the foreign ministry said British threats to punish Moscow over the poisoning would not go unanswered, and described the allegations of Russian involvement as a provocation.
The UK Prime Minister had given Russia until midnight on Tuesday to explain why a Soviet-era nerve agent, produced in Russia, was used in the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who remain in a serious condition in hospital.
Ms May said the only two explanations for the finding were that the attack was ordered by the Kremlin, or that the Russian government had lost control of the military grade chemical weapon and let it fall into the hands of the perpetrators.
Russia insists it had nothing to do with the attack and said it will ignore the ultimatum to explain itself until London both hands over samples of the Novichok agent used and begins to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapon Convention, which oversees joint investigations of such incidents.
“Any threats to take ‘sanctions’ against Russia will not be left without a response,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “The British side should understand that.”
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said earlier on Tuesday that his country “is not to blame” for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal.
And Sergei Stepashin, Vladimir Putin’s predecessor as FSB director and Prime Minister, also called for British authorities to hand over evidence.
“We have the relevant agreements to investigate this together,” he told the Interfax news agency.
Mr Stepashin said British security services may have been complicit in the poisoning — and were using it to undermine Russia ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections: “It seems obvious to me that this might be the primitive work of English security services. Tell me who needs this traitor in Russia?”
There could be another reason apart from elections, he added: “The World Cup is about to take start and the English hate us for the fact the competition is taking place in our country.”
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Earlier in the day, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Committee for Foreign Affairs in the Russian upper house described British allegations as “maniacal.” Britain was well versed in blaming all kinds of “mortal sins” on Russia, he wrote on Facebook.
“Russia is being asked to justify itself even without evidence,” he said. “In queen of courts of Britain, this degradation is complete: the total presumption of guilt, when the neither court and nor prosecutor are asked to prove the case, but the accused.”
Boris Johnson, the UK Foreign Secretary, said Britain was talking to its allies about the situation and that he was “encouraged by the willingness of our friends to show support and solidarity”.
Asked about the Salisbury attack, the US President Donald Trump told reporters outside the White House: “Well it sounds to me, I’m speaking to Theresa May today. It sounds to me like it would be Russia based on all of the evidence they have.
“I don’t know if they’ve come to a conclusion, but she’s calling me today.”
He added: “Theresa May is going to be speaking to me today. It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia and I would certainly take that finding as fact.”
Mr Trump added: “As soon as we get the facts straight and we are going to be speaking with the British today, we’re speaking with Theresa May today, and as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.
“But I have not spoken to her, I’ll speak to her sometime today.”
Officials said Ms May was reviewing a range of economic and diplomatic measures in retaliation for the assault.
The British government will have understood that the Kremlin was unlikely to respond to Ms May’s ultimatum positively. Many in Moscow are already bracing themselves for that they see as an inevitable tightening of sanctions.
Ms May told her regular weekly Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street there was ”no doubt of the severity of what had taken place in Salisbury, which was a reckless, indiscriminate and despicable act.”
She confirmed she will chair a meeting of the National Security Council on Wednesday to discuss the Russian response and will then inform the House of commons of any measures to be taken.
Responding to Mr Lavrov’s complaint the UK had not provided samples of the nerve agent, Ms May’s official spokesman said: “The UK complies fully with all its obligations under the chemical weapons convention.
“Under the chemical weapons convention states have the mechanism to consult, but there is no requirement to do so.”
Additional reporting by agencies