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Senior diplomat cautions EU that anti-Russian moves will ‘cut both ways’

The European Union is refusing to deal with facts on the Skripal case as EU solidarity is above common sense for a number of EU countries, Sergei Ryabkov said

MOSCOW, March 23. /TASS/. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has warned of consequences that could cut both ways for Brussels and Moscow if the EU states decided to expel Russian diplomats or recall their envoys.

"The EU in general and each particular country can certainly make decisions that they consider to be correct," Ryabkov said in an exclusive interview with TASS.
"But the consequences of these choices will certainly cut both ways," he warned.

EU solidarity

The European Union is refusing to deal with facts on the Skripal case as EU solidarity is above common sense for a number of EU countries, according to Ryabkov.

"We have laid out our position in full, and did it more than once. If the European Union is reluctant to reckon with it, opts to ignore very serious inconsistencies in the UK’s positions, which are obvious to us, then by and large it indicates the European Union’s refusal to work with facts and reality and means that the concept of EU solidarity trumps common sense," he said.

"Naturally, the European Union as a whole and each of its members individually may make any decisions they deem to be correct," the Russian senior diplomat noted. "But, obviously, consequences of such decisions will cut both ways, and our colleagues in the European Union have had a chance to see such disputed features in many situations. Such steps has become the special of the day in a number of countries’ policies."

At Thursday’s meeting in Brussels, EU leaders decided to recall Ambassador to Russia Markus Ederer for consultations in the wake of the poisoning of former British spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, in the UK. Several EU countries, including Poland, France and the three Baltic states, are looking at following the United Kingdom’s lead and recall their diplomats from Russia or expel Russian diplomats, a European source told TASS on the sidelines of the EU Council in Brussels.

Skripal's health

London has not shared any information with Moscow on the actual condition of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Ryabkov noted.

"No, we don't have any information [from the UK] at all," he said.

"We certainly noted the chain of reports in the UK press but media publications and online bogus stories are one thing while the data received from officials are a different thing," Ryabkov said. "These are two different categories."

He indicated that Moscow could not rely on rumors or fake news stories, "all the more so since we haven’t heard anything from UK officials so far, except for skewed facts."

"Because of this we don’t have any trust in the British side," Ryabkov stressed.

OPCW's investigation

Russia would not like the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to do London’s bidding in the Skripal poisoning case, according to Ryabkov.

‘We are carrying out and will carry out [cooperation with the OPCW]," Ryabkov said.

"We would not like this respected organization, which is probably one of the most successful in the field of nonproliferation and arms control, to literally let the British lead them by the nose and get sucked into a quest for legal talking points, which would help the secretariat of this organization to cover up its own unwillingness to answer numerous questions, which we have for them as well," the diplomat said.

"How, in what format and on what basis are they interacting with the British? All that has also been voiced in the past few days by our representatives at the corresponding venues," the deputy foreign minister said.

There can’t be any complaints about Russia’s implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), according to Ryabkov.

"Our track record in the CWC framework is impeccable, irreproachable and there simply cannot be any complaints about us, this has been confirmed by the organization several times," the senior diplomat stressed.

"Now the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) due to some reasons is becoming involved in unscrupulous political games, but this is already a new situation, and we will also have to deal with it," Ryabkov said.

"We will work on rectifying this situation, on restoring normal work from the perspective of cooperation between the member-states and the OPCW Technical Secretariat," he said.

Russia signed the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on January 13, 1993, and ratified it on November 5, 1997. In accordance with it, the country declared it had nearly 40,000 tonnes of chemical weapons and pledged to fully destroy them. The last chemical weapons were destroyed on September 27, and OPCW inspectors officially confirmed that Russia had fully eliminated its stockpiles of warfare agents.

The Novichok nerve agent mystery

Russia has never had in military service the chemical warfare agent referred to as Novichok and all those who make statements on that score in the media do not have the full relevant information, Ryabkov said.

"I would like to point out that a series of most intricate procedures were to be accomplished for this or that war gas to be authorized for service. In this particular case, I am referring to the period when this was still possible - before our country joined the Chemical Weapons Convention. I am certain that even for laymen it is clear that such decisions were not made at the level of those who developed one substance or another," the diplomat said. "Those who are now talking about the issue openly say what departments of what organizations they had been employed at. For this reason we would like to point out that they could not know the full picture."

"If for some reason the British dubbed their chemical agent A234 Novichok, this question should be addressed to them and to those of our citizens who have lived in the West in recent years and decades," Ryabkov said.

"We never had this means of attack in military service and, respectively, it is absent from the list of agents declared under the Convention. We never had it, it is as simple as that. Any research or products that might have been regarded as work on a war gas codenamed Novichok did not exist or does exist," Ryabkov said.

Skripal saga

On March 4, ex-Colonel of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate convicted for spying for the United Kingdom, Sergei 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 the so-called Novichok nerve agent, allegedly developed in the Soviet Union. The PM accused Russia of "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 were declared persona non grata and would be expelled within a week. Moreover, the ministry stated that Moscow would shut down the British Consulate General in St. Petersburg and terminate the British Council’s operation in the Russian Federation.