Britain will respond appropriately if evidence shows Moscow sponsored a nerve agent attack on a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in southern England, Prime Minister Theresa May said in her strongest warning to date.
Former double agent Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital since they were found unconscious on Sunday on a bench outside a shopping centre in the quiet cathedral city of Salisbury.
Ms May’s warning came after Home Secretary Amber Rudd branded the assassination attempt a “brazen and reckless act”.
“The use of a nerve agent on UK soil is a brazen and reckless act. This was attempted murder in the most cruel and public way,” Ms Rudd told parliament in a statement.
As speculation mounts among British media and politicians that the Russian state could be behind the attack, Moscow dismissed the claims as knee-jerk, anti-Russian propaganda.
“We will do what is appropriate, we will do what is right, if it is proved to be the case that this is state-sponsored,” Ms May told ITV News, when asked whether Britain could expel the Russian ambassador over the attack.
“But let’s give the police the time and space to actually conduct their investigation.
“Of course if action needs to be taken then the government will do that. We’ll do that properly, at the right time, and on the basis of the best evidence.”
Scientific tests by government experts have identified the specific substance used, which will help identify the source, but authorities have refused to disclose the details.
Both victims remain unconscious, in a critical but stable condition, while a British police officer who was also harmed by the substance is now able to talk to people although he remains in a serious condition, Ms Rudd said.
UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said Russia was becoming an “ever greater threat”, amid speculation the attack could only have been carried out with an element of state involvement.
“Russia’s being assertive, Russia’s being more aggressive, and we have to change the way that we deal with it because we can’t be in a situation in these areas of conflict where we are being pushed around by another nation,” Mr Williamson told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
Making nerve agents and delivering them requires considerable infrastructure, the BBC reported.