Russia has slammed a UK government slideshow advising foreign politicians on the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal, which Moscow says formed the basis of decisions by European governments to expel its diplomats.
The presentation was delivered by Ambassador Laurie Bristow to diplomats at the British Embassy in Moscow on March 22, four days before countries including Italy, Spain, Germany and Poland expelled Russian diplomats or declared them persona non grata.
What do Russia and the UK say?
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday shared slides accompanying the speech, which it described as “notorious classified files”, and asked people to evaluate whether they contained enough information to form a decision on “one country’s responsibility for a gas attack.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova also shared the slideshow, originally published by Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, which she said revealed “the largest manipulation of the world public opinion.”
“The decisions on a state's responsibility in a chemical attack were made on the basis of six pictures,” she wrote.
Following enquiries by Euronews, the UK Foreign Office tweeted that it was grateful to Russia’s Foreign Ministry for “giving our briefing on the Salisbury incident from the British Ambassador to Moscow more prominence.”
The UK foreign office had already shared the speech accompanying the slides in full on its website, and put excerpts on Twitter.
So what does the presentation actually say?
The first slide includes a timeline of key events in the poisoning and Russia’s response alongside a map highlighting key locations and photos of the victims.
The list includes the initial exposure to the nerve agent, its identification as Novichok and the expulsion of Russian intelligence officers from the UK.
4 March: Three people exposed to a nerve agent in Salisbury.
8 March: UK Delegation to the OPCW [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] informed the Technical Secretariat that two people had been taken seriously ill.
12 March: Prime Minister publicly identified the substance used as a Novichok nerve agent. Russian Ambassador asked to explain.
13 March: Midnight deadline expired. No explanation received.
14 March: Prime Minister set out the UK’s response.
14 March: Prime Minister wrote to the OPCW.
18 March: Russia announced retaliatory action.
19 March: OPCW team arrived in the UK.
20 March: 23 undeclared Russian intelligence officers expelled from the UK.
‘A new phase of Russia aggression’
The following slide includes information about the nerve agent and its links to Russia.
It notes that the military-grade Novichok was positively identified by experts, noting that the nerve agent is “developed only by Russia”.
In a shift from previous statements that it is “highly likely” that Russia is behind the attack, the slide says the British government is “without doubt that Russia is responsible.”
“No country bar Russia has combined capability, intent and motive. There is no plausible alternative explanation,” it says.
‘Effects of Novichok’
The next slide includes details about the effects of Novichok, which it says interferes with the normal functioning of the nervous system and, if untreated, causes death by asphyxiation or cardiac arrest.
A diagram details the impact it has on different parts of the human body.
The slide notes that Skripal, his daughter Yulia, and UK policeman Nick Bailey remain in hospital, and that 250 counter-terrorism officers have been involved in the investigation.
‘A long pattern of Russian malign activity’
The slideshow then details what it describes as a "long pattern of malign activity" by Russia.
Incidents include the November 2006 assassination of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in the UK; the August 2008 invasion of Georgia; the occupation of Crimea and destabilisation of Ukraine in 2014; interference in the 2016 US election; a disinformation campaign against Germany; and various cases of hacking.
- _‘UK’s measured and proportionate response’
- _The final slide gives a bullet point list of the UK’s response to the incident, which it describes as “measured and proportionate":
- _Attribution to the Russian State
- _Dismantling of the network of Russian intelligence operatives in the UK
- _Suspension of all planned bilateral contacts
- _Enhanced Border Controls
- _Tackling Criminality and Corruption
- _New Legislation
- Other measures to Counter Hostile State Activity