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6 Sep, 2018 12:12

Putin ‘ultimately’ to blame for Salisbury poison attack – UK Security Minister

Putin ‘ultimately’ to blame for Salisbury poison attack – UK Security Minister

UK Security Minister Ben Wallace has suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “ultimately” to blame for the Salisbury poisoning, as “it is his government that controls, funds and directs” the GRU intelligence service.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Wallace went further than Prime Minister Theresa May’s assertion that the attack “was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

Wallace said: “I don’t think that anyone can ever say that Mr Putin isn’t in control of his state.

“The GRU is, without doubt, not rogue, it is led, linked to both the senior members of the Russian general staff and the defence minister and, through that, into the Kremlin and the president’s office.”

Wallace's statement goes further than that of May, who did not explicitly blame Putin in her statement to parliament, stating: “The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command. So this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

It is unclear if Wallace's implication is supported by the UK government. 

Ahead of May's statement, British prosecutors charged the two alleged perpetrators, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, along with police officer Nick Bailey. They are also charged with the use and possession of ‘Novichok’ in violation of the Chemical Weapons Act.

The two men were identified by UK authorities as members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. Counter-terrorism police didn’t give any more information on the men beyond their aliases, their nationality, and their age. It was May that alleged the men were GRU agents, it is unclear at this stage why the police didn't corroborate her claim. 

Prosecutors have revealed that they have not applied for the extradition of the two men, as the Russian constitution prevents such an act. However, they have obtained a European Arrest Warrant, meaning if the men were to travel to an EU state, they could then be arrested. UK authorities are also seeking the assistance of Interpol.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the media, Wednesday, that the names of the two men mean nothing to them, and urged the British government to work with them, instead of resorting to “information manipulations.”

“Once again we are calling upon the British side to drop public charges and information manipulations and to start practical interaction between law enforcement agencies. London has numerous requests from the Russian side.”

Russia has consistently offered their assistance to the British government since the chemical attack took place in March this year – maintaining they had no involvement in the Salisbury attack.

Wallace said the UK would “use whatever means we have within the law and our capabilities” to “push back the Russian malign activity.”

Asked if there would be some form of retaliation for Russia’s activities, particularly in cyberspace, the security minister asserted: “We do all the time, but we retaliate in our way.

“We are not the Russians, we don’t adopt the sort of thuggish, destructive and aggressive behaviour that we have seen.

“We choose to challenge the Russians in both the overt and the covert space, within the rule of law and in a sophisticated way.”

Following the charges made by British officials against the two men, a UN Security Council meeting has been scheduled. As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia will be present at Thursday’s meeting. They have urged Britain to keep members updated on the progress of the Salisbury investigation, along with UK allies such as the US and France.

May has been in communication with US President Donald Trump and other leaders as she looks to form an international alliance in support of her stance.

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