BRUSSELS, March 23. /TASS/. The European Council has adopted no practical measures against Moscow concerning the case of a former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal poisoned in Salisbury. The participants of the EU Council meeting expressed solidarity with London and pledged to support the incident’s investigation, according to the final statement released late on Thursday.
The European Council "agrees with the United Kingdom government's assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation," the statement said. "The European Council condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent attack in Salisbury, expresses its deepest sympathies to all whose lives have been threatened and lends its support to the ongoing investigation," the document said.
"The use of chemical weapons, including the use of any toxic chemicals as weapons under any circumstances, is completely unacceptable, must be systematically and rigorously condemned and constitutes a security threat to us all. Member States will coordinate on the consequences to be drawn in the light of the answers provided by the Russian authorities. The European Union will remain closely focused on this issue and its implications," the document said.
EU leaders have also agreed to bolster cooperation with NATO to strengthen its resilience to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-related risks, and hybrid threats, including in the areas of cyber, strategic communication and counter-intelligence. The European Council invited the European Commission and the High Representative to take this work forward and report on progress by the June European Council.
Arriving in Brussels for the meeting earlier on Thursday, the British Prime Minister Theresa May said: "It is clear that the Russian threat does not respect borders and indeed the incident is Salisbury was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbors from the western Balkans to the Near East."
On March 4, ex-Colonel of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate convicted for spying for the United Kingdom, Sergey Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia ,33, were exposed to a nerve agent. They were found unconscious on a bench near a shopping center in Salisbury. On March 12, British Prime Minister Theresa May said it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack on Skripal and his daughter. She identified the substance used in the attack as a Novichok nerve agent, developed in the Soviet Union. PM accused Russia of "an unlawful use of force" against her country. Later she announced that London would expel 23 Russian diplomats and take other measures against Moscow.
On March 17, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that 23 British diplomats have been declared persona non grata and would be expelled within a week. Moreover, the ministry stated that Moscow would withdraw permission to open the British Consulate General in St. Petersburg and terminate the British Council in the Russian Federation.