Britain points at Putin in poisoning attack
Moscow – The gulf between Russia and Britain widened on Friday as they cranked up pressure over a nerve agent attack and a suspected murder in Britain that have deepened Western worries about alleged Russian meddling abroad.
Britain’s foreign secretary accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the poisoning of ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, describing it as the most brazen such move since World War II.
Putin’s spokesman denounced the claim as “shocking and inexcusable.”
As relations between the two nations sank to a new post-Cold War low, nearly two dozen Russian diplomats in London were packing their bags to leave Tuesday after an expulsion order from Britain. British diplomats in Moscow were bracing for a retaliatory order from the Kremlin and were just waiting to be told who had to leave and when.
Geopolitical tensions have been mounting since the poisoning of the Skripals in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, in what Western powers see as the latest sign of increasingly aggressive Russian interference in foreign countries. The tensions threaten to overshadow Putin’s expected re-election Sunday for another six-year presidential term.
But that’s not all.
New concerns surfaced Friday about the death this week of a London-based Russian businessman, Nikolai Glushkov, found dead at his south London home on Monday. British police said Friday that he died from compression to the neck and opened a murder investigation.
Russia also suspects foul play in Glushkov’s death and opened its own inquiry Friday. Russia’s top agency for major crimes was also investigating the attack on Yulia Skripal, who is a Russian citizen. Her father has British citizenship. Both are in critical condition.
British police said there is no apparent link to the attack on Glushkov and the poisoning of the Skripals.
But to the West, they are raising similar concerns.
While Britain has accused the Russian state of ordering the poisoning of the Skripals, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson took it a step further Friday and said it’s “overwhelmingly likely” that Putin himself ordered the attack.
Top EU diplomats were expected to discuss next steps at a meeting Monday, with some calling for a boycott of the upcoming World Cup in Russia. British Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking a global coalition of countries to punish Moscow.
Britain is expelling 23 Russian diplomats and taking other steps against Russian interests.
“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.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian news agencies as calling Johnson’s statement a “shocking and inexcusable breach of diplomatic propriety.” Peskov reiterated Russian denials of involvement in the attack on the Skripals.