Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom Alexander Yakovenko gives a news conference at the Russian Ambassador's Residence in London on Thursday.DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/Getty Images

Russia is intensifying its efforts to discredit Britain’s investigation into the poisoning of a former double agent in Salisbury, claiming most countries don’t believe Britain’s allegations Russia was involved and demanding the United Nations Security Council reject the claims.

At a council meeting Thursday afternoon that Russia requested, Moscow’s top diplomat at the UN accused British authorities of creating a “fake story,” and delivered a warning. “We have told our British colleagues that ‘you’re playing with fire and you’ll be sorry’,” said Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations.

Earlier, the British investigation came under attack in London. “The majority of the world, the world community, is not supporting the Western approach,” Russia’s ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, said Thursday during a lengthy news conference to denounce Britain. “We want to know the truth. … we have a lot of suspicions about Britain, you know.”

The poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, has prompted a global diplomatic standoff and driven relations between Russia and the West to their lowest point in decades. British investigators have insisted the Skripals were exposed to Novichok, a deadly group of poisons developed in the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Prime Minister Theresa May has said Russia was likely involved in the plot and she has been backed by the European Union, the United States, Canada and around 20 other Western allies. In a show of solidarity, Britain and its allies have expelled more than 150 Russian diplomats. Russia has responded by expelling a similar number of Western diplomats.

However, Britain’s case has been thrown into confusion this week amid reports that Gary Aitkenhead, the head of the laboratory examining the poison, said he was unable to verify that the nerve agent had come from Russia. There were also allegations Britain’s Foreign Office deleted an official tweet this week that said the nerve agent had been produced in Russia.

And the plot thickened further on Thursday when Ms. Skripal, 33, issued a statement saying her recovery was going well. “I woke up over a week ago now and am glad to say my strength is growing daily,” said the statement. After thanking hospital staff in Salisbury, she added, “I am sure you appreciate that the entire episode is somewhat disorientating.”

Yulia Skripal has released her first statement since being poisoned last month with a nerve agent on U.K. soil. In doing so she's entered the increasingly hostile tussle between Russia and the U.K., as both sides vie for their versions of the truth in the poisoning of Yulia and her ex-spy father.


There were also reports in Russia on Thursday that Ms. Skripal had called her cousin, Viktoria Skripal, in Moscow and told her, “Everything’s okay, everything’s fine.” Ms. Skripal also allegedly told her cousin that Britain probably wouldn’t give Viktoria a visa to come and visit her. Viktoria has also told the media that she is not convinced by Britain’s account of what happened and she believes a former boyfriend of Yulia’s could be behind the attack. Mr. Skripal, 66, remains in critical condition.

Russian officials have seized on the confusion and launched a counterattack, saying Britain has not produced any evidence to back up its claim and that Britain has refused to share any information about the case. Mr. Yakovenko held a briefing this week in London with ambassadors from dozens of other countries and on Thursday he spent more than two hours with reporters outlining Russia’s case. The Russian embassy is also involved in Viktoria Skripal’s planned visit to London, offering accommodation, transportation and interpreters.

During Thursday’s news conference, Mr. Yakovenko struck a confident tone, smiling frequently and even joking at times. “Every day is a new story. Every day is a new version,” he said referring to the lack of information about the case. “We want to know what happened here … This is not a game. For us, it is not a joke, believe me. These citizens are poisoned and we want to know the truth.”

He insisted that Russia had never produced Novichok. “The whole story about Novichok started in the United States in the 1990s,” he said. “It has nothing to do with Russia, we never produced it. We never had Novichok. This is the creation of some other countries.” He added that Britain has made the allegations to divert attention away from Brexit and to take the lead in growing Western attacks on Russia. And he said Russia has been concerned about the number of Russians who have died in the U.K. over the years. “If you take the, let’s say, last 10 years, so many Russian citizens died here in the U.K. under very strange circumstances. … My question is, ‘Why is it happening here?’”

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been called in to investigate the poisoning and its first results are expected next week. On Wednesday, Russia lost a vote at the organization for it to be involved in a joint investigation with Britain. The vote went 6-15 against Russia’s request but 17 countries abstained, providing something of a boost to Russia. Mr. Yakovenko said the abstentions proved that a majority of countries were not prepared to back Britain and that the only allies Britain has are primarily EU and NATO member states. He added that Russia will accept the OPCW’s findings but only if its work is fully transparent.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has stuck by Britain’s allegations, saying the Russians are trying to “obscure the truth and confuse the public.” In a statement, he said, “It seems Russia will never accept the legitimacy of any investigation into chemical weapons use unless it comes up with an answer Russia likes.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe