Nerve gas attack rattles Europe

Comission President Donald Tusk arriving to visit Prime Minister Juha Sipilä at Kesäranta in Helsinki.

The nerve gas attack on the British town of Salisbury has lead to condemnations and calls for support for the British government from the European Union in light of an ever more acrimonious Brexit negotiation.

Poisoning of Sergei Skripal

The attack on former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter happened in the small town of Salisbury on Sunday the 4th of March.

The Rt Hon Theresa May, MP and Prime Minister of the government of the United Kingdom issued a statement earlier this week on the 12th of March that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible against the two Russian citizens residing in Salisbury.

She stated that “It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.” Theresa May continued by accusing Russia of a “well established pattern of Russian state aggression”, pointing to invasions of airspace, cyber espionage, disruption and interference in elections as well as the invasion of Ukraine among many. She pointed to the Russian use of Polonium in the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

The Prime Minister stated that “Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

European reaction

The United Kingdom has begun by expelling 23 diplomats and proposing more wide-ranging sanctions targeting Russian business interests as a response to the attack and the subsequent lapsing of an imposed deadline for a “credible response”. A meeting between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Prime Minister May has been cancelled and all trips of the British Royal house to Russia to the European are also off. Prime Minister May stated “We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents. There is no place for these people or their money in our country”.

Secretary-General the NATO alliance Jens Stoltenberg called attack “horrendous”.

Emanuel Macron as well as all other European leaders expressed immediate support. Angela Merkel “strongly condemned the attack and assured the Prime Minister that she took the British Government’s assessment regarding a Russian responsibility for the attack extremely seriously”, according to a press statement.

Donald Tusk expressed his support for Theresa May and the British people in a meeting with the Prime Minister of Finland Sipilä.

“Irrespective of Brexit and the tough negotiations I would like to express my full solidarity with Prime Minister Theresa May in the face of the brutal attack, which was most likely inspired by Moscow”

Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the European Commission came out strongly in support of collective action against the perpetrators.

“I believe that the European Council should in clear terms express its full solidatity with the British people and the British government in addressing this issue. I believe that it is of the utmost importance that those that are responsible for what has happened see very clearly that there is European solidarity, unequivical, unwaivering and very strong so that those responsible are really punished for what they did. We cannot have nerve gas being used in our societies”.

He added ” This should be addressed by all of us and not just left to Prime Minister May and the British government. It is a collective European responsibility; also under the OPCW rules”

Chemical Weapons Convention

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which the United Kingdom and Russia are part. Since its signing in 1997, the Chemical Weapons Convention been a pillar of the global non-proliferation regime.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) states that members can request a ‘challenge inspection’ procedure if there is any doubt about compliance. “Under the CWC’s ‘challenge inspection’ procedure, States Parties have committed themselves to the principle of ‘any time, anywhere’ inspections with no right of refusal.”

Russia denies involvement

Russian State response has been to roundly deny and condemn the investigation by the British government. Ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia stated that “No scientific research or development under the title novichok were carried out.”

In an official statement by the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the CWC, the British response was called “absolutely unacceptable”. It asked for immediate clarification, stating that “if London does have serious reasons to suspect Russia of violating the CWC – and the statement read by distinguished Ambassador Peter Wilson indicates directly that this is so – we suggest that Britain immediately avail itself of the procedures provided for by paragraph 2 of Article 9 of the CWC. They make it possible, on a bilateral basis, to officially contact us for clarifications regarding any issues that raise doubts or concerns”.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova issued a warning not to “threaten a nuclear power” in light of the continuing Russian development of nuclear weapons on Rossia 1 state tv, adding that “Not a single British media outlet will work in our country if they shut down Russia Today” in light of an investigation launched by OFCOM, the independent broadcasting regulator of the United Kingdom.

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