US, three other nations back Britain over Russian role in former spy's poisoning

By KARLA ADAM | The Washington Post | Published: September 6, 2018

LONDON — The leaders of the United States, France, Germany and Canada issued a joint statement on Thursday backing Britain's assessment of the Novichok poisonings of a former Russian spy and his daughter in March, saying the attack was "almost certainly" approved at a senior level of the Russian government.

"We have full confidence in the British assessment that the two suspects were officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU, and that this operation was almost certainly approved at a senior government level," read the statement from British Prime Minister Theresa May as well as Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Justin Trudeau.

The leaders of the four countries also urged Russia to provide a "full disclosure of its Novichok program" and said they would "continue to disrupt together the hostile activities of foreign intelligence networks on our territories."

May later thanked the four leaders on Twitter for "standing shoulder to shoulder with the UK in response to the despicable use of a chemical nerve agent in Salisbury."

The joint statement comes the same day that Britain was expected to brief the U.N. Security Council in New York about its assessment of the attack, which has drawn international attention.

On Wednesday, British authorities charged two Russians with attempting to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent. The attack occurred March 4 in the quiet English city of Salisbury.

Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer, was convicted in 2006 of sharing state secrets with the British. He was released to Britain in a spy swap in 2010.

May told Parliament on Wednesday that the alleged assailants were GRU agents and that the attack was "almost certainly" approved at "a senior level of the Russian state."

Britain's security minister, Ben Wallace, went further on Thursday, saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin was ultimately responsible for the attack. Putin is "president of the Russian Federation, and it is his government that controls, funds and directs the military intelligence – that's the GRU – via his minister of defense," Wallace told the BBC.

Moscow denies any involvement and has said that the accusations of state involvement are "unacceptable."

According to British authorities, two Russian nationals, using the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, arrived in the United Kingdom on March 2, flying from Moscow to London using Russian passports. Police have released images captured by Britain's extensive closed-circuit television network that show the suspects at some of London's busiest train stations and on the streets of Salisbury.

British prosecutors said they would not request the extradition of the suspects from Russia – Russia's constitution does not allow it to extradite its own nationals – but have obtained a European arrest warrant.

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