Britain is at the centre of an international diplomatic crisis following the accusation by Prime Minister Theresa May of Russian involvement in the nerve agent attack which has left former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia fighting for their lives.
In a statement to the Commons she gave the Russian government a 24-hour deadline to provide an explanation for what called “a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil”. She revealed that an illegal weapons grade toxin called Novochok, which has only been manufactured in Cold War Russia, was responsible for the poisoning.
May said that meant state responsibility or an example of the deadly substance falling into the wrong hands, which would mean the state had lost control of it.
A diplomatic offensive produced support from the European Union, though not individual states within it.
It came after May’s formal identification of Novichok which implicitly appealed to the vulnerability of Western former adversaries of Russia.
She said: “Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at Porton Down; our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; the Government has clouded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Shripal.”
Sanctions are among the options under consideration, including a boycott of the World Cup, but London is looking to make any action more effective through international solidarity.
There was concern over the lack of support from President Donald Trump, a notoriously prolific tweeter. Within 24 hours of blaming Russia the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (pictured) was sacked.
Amid a tit-for-tat summons of responsive ambassadors between the UK and Russia, London is sounding out allies about invoking support for NATO’s Article 5 principle of common defence which states that an attack on one member of the organisation is an attack on all 29.