A British diplomat on Friday said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the nerve agent attack an an ex-Russian spy in the U.K.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson made the statement in what is being seen as a direct accusation against Putin and Russia.
“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision — and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision — to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe for the first time since the Second World War,” Johnson said in London during a museum visit, the Washington Post reported.
“Let’s be absolutely clear. This was a nerve agent … that was developed by Russia, that has been stored by Russia illegally ever since it was developed and has now been used against a former Russian agent who is identified specially by the Kremlin as the legitimate target of revenge and retaliation,” he said. “Indeed, it was not long that Vladimir Putin was himself on television in Moscow announcing that such people should be poisoned.”
“It is overwhelmingly clear that this was directed by Russia, and we await a serious response from the Russians,” he added.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on U.K. nerve attack: “It is overwhelmingly clear that this was directed by Russia.” pic.twitter.com/mckRd0BHXe
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 16, 2018
The Kremlin said the comment was “shocking and unforgivable in terms of diplomatic behavior.”
The exchange comes after British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday retaliated against Russia and announced the country is kicking out 23 Russian diplomats following the nerve agent poison attack on a Russian ex-spy and his daughter.
Russia is suspected of the attempted assassination of a former spy and his daughter, after last week they were both found poisoned in England.
Russia said the accusations were “nonsense,” and it ignored a midnight deadline to explain how the nerve agent was used in the attack.
Britain is also expected to cut off all high-level contacts with Moscow. May said Wednesday the government will also freeze any Russian assets in the U.K. and cancel high-level bilateral meetings. It will also cancel any government and Royal family trips to the World Cup in Russia.
The actions are prompted by the attempted poison assassination, and are likely also prompted by another recent event – a former KGB agent, Andrey Lugovoy, has been linked to a dead Russian businessman who was found in London with “strangulation marks” on Monday; the former agent is also accused of poisoning Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko with polonium.
U.K. police revealed last Wednesday that a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent in England, which raised speculation that the Russian government ordered the “targeted” assassination attempt.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, “were targeted specifically.” Both fell ill and are thought to be in serious condition.
Some emergency workers who responded to the scene where the two were found are now sick, and one police officer “is now also in a serious condition in [the] hospital,” reports said.
Skripal is a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who was convicted of selling secrets to Great Britain in 2006, and was then sent to Britain in 2010 as part of a prisoner swap.
He took ill on Sunday and his conditions continued to worsen.