War of words on ex-spy dispute continues between Britain, Russia

2018-04-05 15:18Xinhua Editor: Liang Meichen ECNS App Download

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was on Wednesday accused of misleading the public as a war or words over the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal gathered pace.

In a further major development, it emerged a message on a Ministry of Defense social media site has been deleted. It had said government scientists blamed Russia for the attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the southern England city of Salisbury a month ago.

The wrangle over "who did it" was thrown into chaos after the CEO at the British government's own scientific research center at Porton Down said they had not identified Russia as the source of the nerve agent used in the attack. The two victims Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia both remain in hospital in Salisbury where Skripal is in a critical condition.

Media attention focused in a television interview Johnson gave a few days ago to a German television station.

Diane Abbott, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, has challenged Johnson to explain his previous comments on the source of the nerve agent Novichok in the case.

Abbott said:"It seems Boris Johnson misled the public when he claimed that Porton Down officials confirmed to him that Russia was the source of the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack. Those officials have made it clear they cannot identify its source, and are not able to definitively say it came from Russia or elsewhere.

"Boris Johnson is supposed to represent Britain on the world stage, but time and again he has shown he is unable to do so responsibly."

Britain's allies have reacted to the incident by expelling 150 Russian diplomats from their countries.

The Russian Embassy in London highlighted how the British Foreign Office had deleted a social media message which had suggested scientists at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory had said the nerve agent had been produced in Russia.

The deleted message read: "Analysis by world-leading experts at Dstl at Porton Down made clear that this was a military grade Novichok nerve agent produced in Russia. Porton Down is OPCW-accredited and designated laboratory."

The Foreign Office said the deleted message had been part of a real-time account of a speech by the British ambassador in Moscow and was deleted because it had "not accurately reported the ambassador's words".

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party accused Johnson of completely exceeding the information he had been given.

Corbyn told journalists: "The Foreign Office then issued a tweet in support of what the foreign secretary said, and then removed that yesterday after Porton Down had said they couldn't identify the source of it. Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer."

Downing Street has been forced into what the Times newspaper in London described as a damage limitation exercise. The government says the Porton Down tests were only one part of the intelligence picture, insisting there was still no other plausible explanation than Russian culpability.

The Kremlin has continually denied any involvement in the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter. Moscow has taken corresponding measures in response to the diplomat expulsions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that Russia had no interest in poisoning ex-spy Sergei Skripal, but Britain's special services and government could gain from the incident.

"It may well be beneficial to the British special services, known for their ability to act with a license to kill," Lavrov said at a news briefing, obviously referring to James Bond, British super spy movie character known as 007.

"It may be beneficial to the British government, which found itself in an uncomfortable situation after not fulfilling promises to its electors over Brexit," he added.

Meanwhile the British government has described as perverse, a demand by Russia for a joint intervention into the Salisbury poisoning. Russia made its request at a meeting Wednesday in the Hague of OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.


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