Moscow envoy: Poisoning claims are ‘anti-Russian hysteria’

MOSCOW (AP) — A top Russian diplomat Thursday denounced British accusations that Russian military intelligence agents poisoned a former spy in England, calling them base untruths aimed at whipping up hostility toward Moscow.

The statement by Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia to a session of the U.N. Security Council came hours after Britain’s security minister said Russian President Vladimir Putin ultimately is responsible for the nerve-agent poisoning in March of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in the city of Salisbury.

Britain produced an “unfounded and mendacious cocktail of facts” and is refusing to cooperate with Russia in investigating the poisoning “to unleash a disgusting anti-Russian hysteria and to involve other countries in this hysteria,” Nebenzia said.

Moscow has denied involvement in the poisonings since the beginning of the case and the issue reared up again Wednesday when Britain said it had identified two alleged agents of Russia’s GRU military intelligence service as suspects.

Earlier at the Security Council, Ambassador Karen Pierce of Britain accused Russia of failing to uphold the ban on using chemical weapons and playing “dice” with the lives of the people of Salisbury. She said the international community must take steps to safeguard people against the use of chemical weapons and “the threat of hostile foreign interference.”

Britain’s security minister Ben Wallace called out Putin over the attack that used the nerve agent Novichok against the Skripals in Salisbury. Skripal, a GRU officer who turned double agent for Britain, and his daughter were hospitalized for weeks in critical condition.

Pierce said “they are progressing well.”

Wallace told the BBC Putin and his government “controls, funds and directs” the GRU.

Three months after the Skripals were poisoned, local woman Dawn Sturgess died and her boyfriend Charlie Rowley was sickened after they came across remnants of the nerve agent in a discarded perfume bottle.

Britain announced the charges in absentia against two Russians, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — names that are likely to be aliases. The murder attempt was approved “at a senior level of the Russian state,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday.

Moscow strongly denies involvement in the attack, and Russian officials said they didn’t recognize the suspects.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters Thursday that the accusations leveled against the Russian leader and the government were “unacceptable.”

“Neither the Russian leadership nor its representatives have anything to do with the events in Salisbury,” he said.

Peskov also said that Russia “has no reasons” to investigate the two individuals charged Wednesday because Britain has not asked for legal assistance in the case.

Britain has said it is not going to seek their extradition because Russian law does not allow for its nationals to be tried abroad.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova went on national television Wednesday evening and said the security camera footage of the two suspects arriving at Gatwick Airport released by the British authorities had been doctored because it shows them at the same time in the same place. A closer look, however, shows that the men were walking in different gate corridors.

On Thursday, she accused Britain of “concealing the evidence” and demanded that it share the suspects’ fingerprints and other data.

The Skripals’ poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations. But there is limited appetite among Britain’s European allies for further sanctions against Moscow.

Sergei Skripal’s niece, Viktoria, on Thursday called on British authorities to allow her to visit her family in Britain after her visa applications were denied. She said that she does not know the men suspected to be behind the poisoning.

Viktoria Skripal also said that she doubts that Sergei Skripal is still alive because he has not communicated with the family since the poisoning.