Russian envoy says United Kingdom spying claims about Skripals a "big surprise"

Sergey Lavrov said the UK Nato and European Union had closed the normal channels of communication with Russia

His daughter, who lives in Moscow, was visiting him when the two were poisoned in an attack that has triggered an worldwide diplomatic crisis between Russia and the West. Sedwill's letter to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg alleged that Russia had "the technical means, operational experience and motive for the attack on the Skripals and that it is highly likely that the Russian state was responsible". "We have information indicating Russian intelligence service interest in the Skripals, dating back at least as far as 2013, when email accounts belonging to Yulia Skripal were targeted by GRU [military intelligence] cyber specialists".

His unsupported claims call into question the conclusions of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which found a Soviet-developed nerve agent was responsible for the attack in Salisbury, England, on March 4.

"We get the impression that the British government is deliberately pursuing the policy of destroying all possible evidence, classifying all remaining materials and making an independent and transparent investigation impossible", Alexander Yakovenko told reporters.

Russian channel one state television revels in its declaration that the OPCW did not report on the nerve agent origin but then spins its story in a different direction sowing doubt that Yulia Skripal's statement stating she did not want contact with the Russian embassy was written by her and speculating that she is being held in some secret place against her will.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said it confirmed "the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical" without naming the substance involved.

Men load a carpet and mattress on to a bicycle in front of damaged buildings in the town of Douma
Men load a carpet and mattress on to a bicycle in front of damaged buildings in the town of Douma

"It is highly likely that Novichoks were developed to prevent detection by the West and to circumvent global weapons controls", he said. He said it was highly unlikely that any former Soviet republic besides Russian Federation pursued an offensive chemical weapons program. "The Russian state has previously produced Novichoks and would still be capable of doing so".

He said Russian Federation had a "proven record of conducting state-sponsored assassination" and that it was "highly likely" some defectors - like Mr Skripal, a former GRU officer who was exchanged in a spy swap in 2010 - may be regarded as "legitimate targets".

Increasing scrutiny: The Skripal case, as well as the recent alleged use of chemical weapons by Russian ally Syria, has placed world focus on the use of chemical weapons, culminating in a Western missile strike on a series of targets in Syria.

"In 2017, we eliminated all chemical weapons", Yakovenko said.

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