Boris Johnson has warned Vladimir Putin he’s “not fooling anybody” over the Salisbury spy poisoning as he rallied international support for sanctions against Russia.
The Foreign Secretary issued a sharp response to the Russian President’s denials as he arrived in Brussels to brief his EU counterparts on the chemical attack.
Putin commented publicly on the nerve agent attack for the first time last after being re-elected.
He claimed it was “complete drivel, rubbish, nonsense” to say Russia was behind the attack because Russia had “destroyed all our chemical weapons in front of international observers.”
But Mr Johnson said Russia had been inconsistent in their story, claiming first that they had never made the Novichok nerve agent used on Sergei and Yulia Skripal before changing their story to say they had destroyed their supplies.
He said: “I think what people can see is that this is a classic Russian strategy of trying to conceal the needle of truth in a hay stack of lies and obfuscation.
“What really strikes me talking to European friends and partners today is that 12 years after the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko they’re not fooling anybody anymore.
“There is a scarcely a country round the table here in Brussels that has not been effected in recent years by some kind of malign or disruptive Russian behaviour and that is why I think the strength and the resolve of our European friends is so striking today.”
The Salisbury spy poisoning was at the top of the agenda at today’s meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council.
Mr Johnson was expected to brief his EU counterparts on intelligence linking the attack to Russia and ask for their support in holding the country to account.
Following the briefing, the Foreign Affairs Council issued a joint statement saying: “The European Union takes extremely seriously the UK Government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible.”
The EU has called on Russia to “provide immediate, full and complete disclosure of its Novichok programme” to inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Speaking before the meeting, French foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said there was no other plausible explanation than Russian responsibility.
The EU put in place sanctions against Russia in response to the annexation of Crimea, which include travel restrictions and asset freezes against 150 people and 38 companies.
Britain’s allies weren’t yet ready to commit to further sanctions when asked about the prospect before today’s meeting.
Spanish foreign affairs minister Alfonso Dastis said the situation called for “an extended examination of all the elements involved with the participation of the OPCW.”
“But we are definitely going to keep the issue under consideration in the context of the EU,” he added. “Not only ministers but all the heads of state.”
Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström said: “We of course know that it has not been easy always to back up the sanctions that we already have decided on but I think the discussion today will give a good ground for further actions.
“It’s very important that we are united and demonstrate solidarity with the UK today.”