Russian Federation summons British ambassador over spy poisoning dispute

Russia could announce measures against Britain

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 overseas.

Britain's foreign secretary accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering a nerve agent attack in Britain, ratcheting up tensions on Friday (Saturday NZ Time) in an increasingly global showdown over alleged Russian meddling overseas.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Britain's quarrel was not with the Russian people but with the Kremlin.

Putin's spokesman denounced the claim as "shocking and inexcusable".

Russian Federation will hold a presidential election of its own on Sunday, which Putin is widely expected to win. Having failed to get a quick reply from Russia, British Prime Minister Theresa May instituted a slew of measures in response to the attack, including expelling 23 Russian diplomats (Russia has promised to retaliate), and freezing its government assets considered potentially harmful to Britons.

The British government has confirmed the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats from Russian Federation, and says the U.K. National Security Council will meet early next week to consider the next steps in its dispute with Moscow over the poisoning of a former spy.

Britain has cancelled high-level bilateral contact with the Kremlin and May on Wednesday gave 23 Russian diplomats a week to leave Britain.

Britain's foreign minister Boris Johnson said Friday it was "overwhelmingly likely" President Vladimir Putin directly ordered the attack. They are both in critical condition. The Italian premier reportedly told May that Italy believes in the "full legitimacy" of the UK's demand for answers from Moscow over what he described as an "extremely grave episode".

Some scientists say it's feasible that the nerve agent could be made stable enough to travel and that various compounds could have been added to Novichok to make it a clear, colorless liquid resembling water, perfume or alcohol.

Russian Federation has demanded that Britain share samples collected by investigators.

De Bretton-Gordon said it was possible that the Novichok arrived in Salisbury in Yulia Skripal's suitcase, but said much could go wrong in such a scenario. Russian Federation has asked to be allowed to examine the evidence and claims that so far it has not been allowed to do so.

The Foreign Office says "Russia's response doesn't change the facts of the matter - the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable".

Russia's envoy to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told The AP that his country has no stocks of the Novichok group of nerve agents, insisting that Soviet-era research into the agents was totally dismantled before Russian Federation joined the organization. He also cast doubt on the possibilities that the nerve agent was sent through the mail or was placed in luggage that Skripal's daughter brought with her from Russian Federation to Britain.

De Bretton-Gordon said there were rumors of a Novichok test in Uzbekistan in the 1980s but that any of the remaining nerve agent from that experiment would have lost its toxicity - and that the agent used to poison the Skripals was extremely toxic. "But London must understand that this will not do anything, it is useless to talk with Russian Federation with such methods", Dzhabarov was quoted as saying by the state news agency RIA Novosti. "I don't know, perhaps he lacks education", Lavrov told a news conference after talks on Syria's war with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts.

While many British politicians have backed the government in blaming Moscow for the nerve agent attack, the U.K.'s main opposition leader has cautioned against a rush to judgment.

He claimed Mr Skripal was "useless" to the Russian state and there was no value in poisoning him and likened it to a "British TV drama".

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