Boris Johnson warned Russia they are ‘not fooling anybody any more’ today as he rallied EU support over the Salisbury poisoning.
The Foreign Secretary accused Moscow of trying to ‘hide the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation’ as he arrived for talks with counterparts in Brussels.
Mr Johnson, who will also hold talks with Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, said he had been ‘heartened’ by the level of international backing for the UK.
‘The Russian denials grow increasingly absurd,’ he told reporters. ‘At one time they say they never made Novichok, another time they made it but all the stocks have been destroyed…
‘I think what people can see is that this is a classic Russian strategy of trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation.’
He added: ‘They are not fooling anybody any more.’
Mr Johnson accused Moscow yesterday of ‘creating and stockpiling’ the deadly nerve agent used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The Foreign Secretary (pictured in London yesterday) is meeting counterparts in Brussels as the diplomatic standoff continues with the Kremlin
Vladimir Putin addressed a crowd in Moscow’s Red Squareafter winning reelection last night
He said scientists had produced Novichok in breach of international chemical weapons conventions and researched how to use them to assassinate its enemies over the past decade.
But as the war of words intensified, Vladimir Putin dismissed claims his country was behind the Salisbury poisoning as ‘drivel, rubbish, nonsense’.
The comments came after Mr Putin won a landslide victory in yesterday’s presidential election.
Mr Putin said Russia has ‘destroyed all chemical weapons’ as he gave a victory speech in Red Square.
‘With regards to this tragedy, the first thing that came to my mind: If this was a military substance, they would have died straight away. You have to understand that. Second, we don’t have chemical weapons,’ he said.
‘We’ve gotten rid of that, unlike some of our international partners.’
Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, yesterday hinted the nerve agent could have come from the UK military’s chemical weapons laboratory at Porton Down away.
He said all production of nerve agent had ended in the early 1990s and stockpiles had been destroyed.
But Mr Johnson described Russia’s response as a combination of ‘smug sarcasm and denial, obfuscation and delay’ and said Mr Chizhov was telling lies.
Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Hague are due to arrive in the UK today to take samples of Novichok from the British authorities.
Theresa May (pictured with husband Philip on the way to church in her Maidenhead constituency yesterday) says the UK is considering its next move in the diplomatic spat
The poisoning of Yulia, left, and her father Sergei Skripal, right, sparked a huge investigation and clean-up operation (file picture)
Interviewed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Vladimir Chizhov said the military-grade Novichok poison might have originated at Porton Down as it was only eight miles from the scene in Salisbury
The results of the tests are expected to take at least two weeks.
The Foreign Secretary told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show the government had given Russia ‘every opportunity’ to come up with an alternative explanation for how the nerve agent came to be in Britain.
‘And their response has been a sort of mixture of smug sarcasm and denial, obfuscation and delay.
‘In response to Mr Chizhov’s point about Russian stockpiles of chemical weapons.
What is the Novichok nerve agent used against the Skripals?
The Novichok nerve agent used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is among the most deadly poisons ever created.
They were secretly developed by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold war in the 1970s and 1980s.
Communist scientists developed the poison so it would not be able to be detected by Nato’s chemical detection equipment.
They come in the form of a ultra-fine powder, Novichok is up to eight times more potent than the deadly VX gas.
Victims who are poisoned by the powder suffer muscle spasms, breathing problems and then cardiac arrest.
There is a known antidote to the nerve agent – atropine can block the poison.
But doctors find it very tricky to administer the antidote because the dose would have to be so high it could prove fatal for the person.
Novichok poisons are highly dangerous to handle, requiring the expertise of skilled scientists in a sophisticated lab.
Dr Vil Mirzayanov, former Chief of the Foreign Technical Counterintelligence Department at Russia’s premiere, was among the team of scientists who helped develop the agent.
In an article about the lethal weapon, he wrote: ‘They are extremely dangerous – most likely lethal – for people who would try to synthesise or manipulate them without the help of highly experienced scientists and engineers in special laboratory installations observing extreme safety measures.
‘Without exception, Novichok weapons cannot be used for any reason without specially trained military personnel under medical supervision.’
‘We actually had evidence within the last ten years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but it has also been creating and stockpiling Novichok.
He added: ‘Listening again to the response of the Russian Ambassador to the EU with his satirical suggestion that this was done by UK agents from Porton Down, this is not the response of a country that really believes itself to be innocent.
‘This is not the response of a country that really wants to engage in getting to the bottom of the matter.’
On Saturday Russia announced it would expel 23 British diplomats, matching the number of Russian spies ordered to leave the UK last week. It also closed a consulate and barred the British Council from working in the country.
Tomorrow, the National Security Council will meet to discuss the UK’s response. Mr Johnson suggested there would not be an immediate retaliation.
He said ministers were ‘hardening our borders’ and ensuring the authorities pursue Russians who have ‘corruptly obtained their wealth’.
In a BBC interview, Mr Chizhov claimed Mr Skripal had been ‘almost forgotten’ in Russia.
‘He has been living in Britain for eight years now. Before that – I think I should stress the point – he was officially pardoned by presidential decree.’
He also claimed that because Yulia is a Russian citizen the British authorities had violated ‘consular convention’ by not allowing Russian officials access to her in hospital.
Russia had ‘no stockpiles whatsoever’ of chemical weapons.
‘Actually Russia has stopped production of any chemical agents back in 1992.. So we cannot even talk about any chemical agents produced by Russia. All that have been produced previously was produced by the Soviet Union.
He pointed to a ruling from the chemical weapons body only last year that Russia had destroyed all its stockpiles, adding: ‘There is only one country today which hasn’t done so, which is still retaining its chemical stockpiles, and that is the United States of America.’
He added: ‘But when you have a nerve agent or whatever, you check it against certain samples that you retain in your laboratories. And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the United Kingdom that has been dealing with chemical weapons research. And it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.’
The Russian embassy in Britain posted a picture of Agatha Christie’s detective Poirot with the caption ‘In absence of evidence, we definitely need Poirot in Salisbury!’