The U.K. said all evidence points to Russia in the case of the former spy poisoned in southern England, in an effort to regain the upper hand in the face of a Russian blitz to discredit its investigation.
“There is no doubt that we have found nerve agent, that nerve agent has been identified to have been manufactured, we believe in Russia, and we believe that the nerve agent, the Novichok type of nerve agent is only capable of being produced by a nation state,” Security Minister Ben Wallace said on Thursday in a BBC radio interview. “We can say that all roads lead to Russia, that we are beyond reasonable doubt that the Russian state is behind this.”
Russia on Thursday will step up its attempts to discredit Britain with a press conference in London by its ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko. Russia has also called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to discuss the case, which left a former double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia hospitalized in a critical condition.
Britain has come under pressure from Russia to prove its charges after Gary Aitkenhead, director of the U.K.’s Porton Down laboratory that identified the nerve agent, said his scientists hadn’t determined its source, directly contradicting Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. That led to the deletion on Wednesday of a Foreign Office tweet that made the same link, prompting a backlash from Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday the poisoning was “staged” to justify the expulsions from many countries “whose arms were twisted.”
“Instead of presenting concrete facts, instead of an honest investigation, unsubstantiated allegations are made,” he said. “Self-respecting adults don’t believe in fairy tales.”
Lavrov called for a “detailed and responsible investigation” in full compliance with the terms of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said on Wednesday that it expects to have results of tests it conducted on the nerve agent by next week. Russia lost an OPCW vote 15-6 on its proposal for there to be a joint probe into the poisoning.
This week’s developments have put Britain on the back foot in the social media war with Russia, after Prime Minister Theresa May persuaded allies in the U.S., Europe, Australia and Canada to conduct coordinated expulsions of more than 150 Russian diplomats following the March 4 attack.
Conspiracy theories that circulated since the attack came back to life after Aitkenhead’s comments. Russian suggestions, lampooned by the Foreign Office in a March 19 video, that the U.K., Ukraine or U.S. were responsible and the nerve agent came from Slovakia, the Czech Republic or even Sweden resurfaced.
No matter that Britain still says it believes Russia was responsible and the tweet was deleted because Porton Down was just one of a series of sources on which is based its conclusion, its attempt to beat Russia at social media has taken a battering.