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Russia expects UK to provide explanations on Skripal case, says senior diplomat

Ex-Colonel Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a nerve agent on March 4 and found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, UK

MOSCOW, March 20. /TASS/. Moscow expects the British authorities to promptly furnish explanations about the March 4 poisoning of former Russian military intelligence (GRU) Colonel Sergey Skripal, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters.

"We expect London to promptly provide explanations as to what happened and what they are going to do to get out of this situation," he said. "It is nothing less than a large-scale multi-level provocation involving a series of underhanded gimmicks," Ryabkov went on to say. "No matter what British officials say, it is they who must provide explanations to us and not the other way around," he stressed.

The United Kingdom is seeking to use the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to back its allegations of Russia’s involvement in the Skripal case, he said.

"What is going on around this matter from the point of view of the OPCW’s activities and our efforts in this organization clearly indicate that the United Kingdom and its allies are seeking to use the possibilities of the OPCW secretariat to back their outrageous accusations against Russia that are unparalleled in international practices," he explained.

"A tragic accident took place in the United Kingdom with a Russian citizen (Skripal’s daughter) and we know nothing about her state. We don’t know what condition she is in and what happened to her," he noted. "Neither do we know anything about her father, Sergei Skripal."

Instead of "providing Russia with complete data on the toxic agent in question, proving its sample and pooling efforts under Article 9 of the Chemical Weapons Convention," London has opted for another path, he said. "The United Kingdom has asked the OPCW secretariat to send experts. Now, it is apparently working over them to have them attest its pre-defined conclusion to back its irresponsible accusations we have heard in our respect in the recent days."

"We believe that the OPCW Technical Secretariat and the Organization’s director general should provide us full information about their reasons for promptly responding to the British request, as well as about any evidence and information Great Britain presented in support of its request," Ryabkov said. According to him, the OPCW also needed "to reveal to us its intentions for cooperation with the British."

"Despite the ongoing speculations, no program aimed at developing and producing chemical weapons dubbed Novichok ever existed in the Soviet Union and Russia," the senior Russian diplomat stressed.

The reaction by the Czech Republic and Sweden does not cancel their ability to develop substances like Novichyok chemical agent, he said.

"It is not accidental that Russia spoke about the fact that the United States, Sweden and the Czech Republic have the possibilities for work with such substances, in addition to the United Kingdom. We know that our statements on this issue cause such a stormy reaction in those countries," the high-placed diplomat said.

"But the storm as a reaction does not in any way deny the fact that precisely these countries, as far as we know, possess the capabilities to engage in such research, develop things like this and synthesize them," Ryabkov said.

The Russian diplomat called to address open sources on chemical weapons available in the Internet.

"The references can be easily found in the speech by Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN [Vasily Nebenzya]. After looking in the text and following the reference link, you will see who, where, when and why could be engaged in this," the deputy foreign minister said.

The high-ranking diplomat also drew attention to the fact that it was necessary to have a sample for comparison to carefully examine the substance used in Skripal’s poisoning.

"No matter to which certified OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] laboratory this substance may be transferred, we believe that this laboratory is capable of determining whether a chemical agent was used, which class of chemical warfare agents it is referred to or something else. But in order to talk about the type or the specific kind of such a substance, the Britons should have a sample for comparison," Ryabkov said.

As the high-ranking diplomat said, Russia initially stated about its openness for bilateral cooperation in the OPCW format and is ready to assist the investigation.

Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned with a nerve agent on March 4 and found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, UK. Both of them have been hospitalized and are in critical condition. British authorities blamed Russia for the poisoning, but failed to provide any evidence to support their accusations. Russia refuted all of London’s allegations. With that, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and the suspension of high-level bilateral contacts. On Saturday, in response to London’s moves, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported that Russia had declared 23 British diplomats personae-non-gratae and would expel them within a week, close the British consulate general in St. Petersburg, and terminate the British Council’s activity in Russia.