Anything to admit, Vlad? Putin SMIRKS when asked if Russia is responsible for the poisoning of spy Sergei Skripal as his Foreign Minister says Moscow is 'NOT to blame' for the attack
Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain critical after Salisbury nerve agent attack
Theresa May has said it was 'highly likely' Russia was involved in the poisoning
A smirking Vladimir Putin was asked whether Russia was behind the attack
The Russian President told Britain to clarify its position before he will comment
His Foreign Minister says Russia is not to blame and summoned UK ambassador
By Julian Robinson and Will Stewart In Moscow for MailOnline
PUBLISHED: 10:37 GMT, 13 March 2018 |This is the moment Vladimir Putin smirked after being asked whether Russia was responsible for the poisoning of spy Sergei Skripal.
When asked on camera if Moscow was to blame, the Russian President smiled a little before side-stepping the question
He then told Britain to 'get to the bottom of things there first' when asked about the nerve agent attack in Salisbury which left the former double agent and daughter Yulia in a critical condition.
Theresa May said last night it was 'highly likely' Russia was involved in the 'reckless and despicable' poisoning of the 66-year-old and his 33-year-old daughter.
But Putin's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov this morning insisted Russia 'is not to blame' and said he had asked for samples of the nerve agent - a request he claimed had been 'denied'.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin's Foreign Ministry has summoned British Ambassador Laurie Bristow amid a deepening war of words between the two countries. France, Germany and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have all given their backing to the UK.
Footage captured the moment Vladimir Putin smirked after being asked whether Russia was responsible for the poisoning of spy Sergei Skripal +18
Sergei Skripal (pictured) and his daughter Yulia have been in a critical condition since they were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury on March 4 +18
Branding the attack a 'reckless and despicable act' last night, Mrs May said the substance used was a 'military grade' nerve agent Russia has produced and demanded answers from the Kremlin by midnight tonight
Police have put a forensics tent over the parking meter outside Salisbury's Sainsbury's store amid fears it was used by Sergei Skripal +18
Locals have said chemical weapons experts are removing a potentially contaminated vehicle from a local business
Before the Prime Minister's remarks yesterday, Putin was asked by BBC reporter Steve Rosenberg whether Russia was responsible for the assassination attempt.
A smiling Putin replied: 'Listen, we are dealing with agriculture here and as you can see our aim it to create living conditions for people - and you are talking about some tragedies. Get to the bottom of things there first, then we'll discuss this.'
Putin's brief comment came after security sources said Skripal was poisoned by a rare nerve agent that only a few laboratories in the world could have produced - one of which, the source said, was the Yasenevo lab, run by Russia's SVR spy service on the outskirts of Moscow.
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This morning, Lavrov said he had asked for access to samples of the nerve agent that poisoned Skripal and his daughter adding that Russia was 'not to blame'.
He warned that Russia will only co-operate with Britain on the investigation if it receives samples of the substance that is believed to have been used.
But Lavrov said that Moscow's requests to see samples of the nerve agent have been turned down, which he called a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws the production of chemical weapons.
It comes after Putin's chief propagandist suggested Britain poisoned Skripal as part of a bid to 'to feed their Russophobia' and engineer a boycott of the World Cup.
It's like blaming Moscow over any death with a Kalashnikov': Russian media reacts to nerve agent storm
Blaming Russia for the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was like accusing Moscow over any death with a Kalashnikov gun, said Vladimir Putin's Channel One TV.
Presenter of 'Vremya' news Kirill Kleymyonov, showed a clip of Theresa May making her statement to parliament and followed it with a stinging comment.
'What does it mean that the chemical was made on Russian territory and therefore Russia is behind this attempted murder? Impeccable logic!
'England's been famous for it since Sherlock Holmes.
Blaming Russia for the nerve agent poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury (pictured) was like accusing Moscow over any death with a Kalashnikov gun, said Vladimir Putin's Channel One TV
'So if anyone, God forbid, used a Kalashnikov in an attempted murder, there would even have been no need to waste time investigating - just summon the ambassador straight away and impose sanctions.'
The report then highlighted Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova's comment describing May's statement as 'a circus show in the British parliament'.
Britain has turned into Russia's toughest foe in the West, the Moscow media said today commenting on Theresa May's midnight deadline.
Kommersant newspaper was one of the few newspapers to frontage the story.
The headline ran: 'And the poison followed him' with the strap: 'Theresa May named the substance which poisoned Sergey Skripal and where it was made.'
The newspaper told its readers: 'London will be ready to go to any extremes regardless to what degree Western allies will support it…'
The Skripal case 'is developing in an extremely negative way' and 'may turn London into the toughest opponent to Moscow in the West, a role the USA is playing for now.
Presenter of 'Vremya' news Kirill Kleymyonov, showed a clip of Theresa May (pictured) making her statement to parliament and followed it with a stinging comment
'The situation is developing in such a way that Britons will turn out to be the last in the West who will be ready to reconcile with Russia.'
Vedomosti business newspaper said Russo-British relations 'which have reached rock bottom …risk souring even more'.
Official Kremlin newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta warned: 'London has at once jumped on the incident with firm resolve to reap as many political dividends against Russia as possible.
'Long before the investigation is over, the incident has rapidly become high-profile at the behest of politicians and has outshone all other topics on the front pages of local newspaper
'London has already named who to blame…' - Russia.
Popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets took up the allegation that MI5 or MI6 were to blame for the poisoning in an echo of charges made in the Alexander Litvinenko case.'It is quite possible that the incident is an operation by the British special services or a favour to the British special services done by their friendly colleagues,' said pundit Alexei Mukhin.
'As for now, the developments are advantageous to Theresa May and the British special services, which lately have been very actively dealing with Russian oligarchs who reside at the UK territory, aiming to 'milk money' from them...
'I will not accuse anyone and will not say who in particular are doing this because I do not want to wake up with polonium in my pockets.
'But it is England alone, who benefits from such actions.
'For Russia, actions like this are absolutely disadvantageous…
RBC reported factually: 'London gives 24 hours to eliminate toxicity.'
Police officers work at a supermarket near the bench where former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found poisoned
Meanwhile state-run Sputnik cited The Times in saying the UK could launch a cyber war on Russia.
RIA Novosti news agency reported secret services veteran Igor Morozov, now a senator, as saying : 'Russia has not only stopped producing nerve agents, including Novichok, but also completely destroyed all its stockpiles.
'It was done in accordance with international agreements under the supervision of international observers from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The last batch of chemical agents was destroyed in Russia in September 2017, while their production was stopped in the 1990s, he said.
Morozov admitted that any secret production of novichok would be 'dangerous but possible' and would require 'laboratory conditions, special equipment and specialists'.
Another parliamentarian, Vladimir Dzhabarov, insisted Russia has destroyed chemical weapons and 'has never deceived its partners' Interfax reported.
Putin crony Dmitry Kiselyov, a top presenter on Russian state television, today said 'only the British stand to benefit' from the incident - apparently suggesting the UK may have targeted the Skripals.
The 63-year-old, who hosts Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week) on the official state-owned channel Rossiya 1, spoke in front of an image of Big Ben with words translating as 'death trap' written next to it.
The Prominent Russian media personality is quoted as saying: 'Clearly, they instantly started to blame Russia but if one thinks it through, the only ones for whom former GRU colonel's poisoning is good for are the Brits. Simply to feed their Russophobia.
He claimed that 'as a source' Skripal 'was no longer interesting' but added that 'as a victim of poisoning' he was 'useful'.
'Why not poison him? There is no pity. Together with his daughter so that it's more heart-wrenching for the public.
Vladimir Putin's chief propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov (pictured) has has suggested Britain poisoned Sergei Skripal as part of a bid to 'to feed their Russophobia' and engineer a boycott of the World Cup
Putin crony Dmitry Kiselyov, a top presenter on Russian state television, today said 'only the British stand to benefit' from the incident - apparently suggesting the UK may have targeted the Skripals
'Then there are lots of opportunities, including organising an international boycott of the World Cup in Russia. An excellent special operation.
'Skripal as cheap raw material - and let Russia find the excuses.'
Theresa May dramatically pointed the finger at Vladimir Putin last night over the nerve gas attack.
The Prime Minister said the facts increasingly suggested Russia was behind the apparent 'hit' on Skripal.
What action could Britain take against Russia if the Kremlin is shown to be behind the poison spy plot?
Britain could expel Russia's ambassador and other diplomats based at the embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens - round the corner from where Prince William and Kate live.
If MI5 have tabs on a Russian spy ring in the UK, Britain could take this poison plot as a reason to expel them.
Britain already has an extensive range of sanctions against Russia as a result of the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but we could extend them.
The UK could also impose sanctions on named individuals if they are linked to the murder attempt.
Britain could pass the 'Magnitsky List' mirroring US laws imposing travel bans on senior Kremlin officials responsible for the death of Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky in a prison in 2009.
Britain could enact the Magnitsky amendment, imposed conditions on Putin's cronies. The act is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in custody after exposing corruption
World Cup boycott
Official representation could be withdrawn from the World Cup in Russia if Kremlin links are proven.
Prime Minister Theresa May told MPs last week that the Government would “look at whether ministers and other dignitaries should attend” the tournament in that event.
The Duke of Cambridge has already said he has no plans to attend.
There have been calls for the England team to boycott the tournament but their withdrawal would probably have little impact.
A coordinated protest, involving the withdrawal of multiple countries, would be far more effective in damaging Vladimir Putin’s showcase international event. However, experts say the nerve agent poisoning is unlikely to create enough international momentum to trigger a wider boycott.
Statement of condemnation
Britain may call on the support its closest allies if there is evidence of a Russian murder attempt on UK soil.
A joint statement of international condemnation could be issued from leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, warning Russia that such actions will not be tolerated.
Branding the attack a 'reckless and despicable act', Mrs May said the substance used was a 'military grade' agent Moscow has produced.
Mrs May said the government would not accept such an attempt to 'murder innocent civilians on our soil'.
She will decide on a range of sanctions over the next 24 hours after urgent talks with Nato, the United Nations, EU and US.
The Prime Minister will also draw up a secret package of measures against Russia which will never be revealed.
This could include targeting the Kremlin's propaganda machine. Whitehall sources said yesterday they were accelerating their offensive cyber programme and could hit select targets for a specific effect.
It is understood this could see a specialist cyber unit deployed in the UK to attack Kremlin computer networks spewing Russian propaganda and trolling factories spreading fake news.
Together with Russia's previous actions and tactics, including the killing of Alexander Litvinenko, the UK authorities yesterday concluded it was 'highly likely' to be involved in the episode.
In a tough statement updating MPs after a meeting of the National Security Council, Mrs May raised the prospect of significant retaliation - making clear that the UK is already consulting Nato and other allies.
'It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia,' Mrs May said. 'This is part of a group of nerve agents known as novichok.'
Another option is for the Government to implement a British version of the US's Magnitsky Act, which lists Russians involved in corruption and human rights abuses, banning them from entering the country. There could be fresh sanctions against senior figures in the Putin regime, either with the EU or unilaterally.
General Sir Chris Deverell, commander of Joint Forces Command, has revealed how the UK has a specialist unit which is dedicated to 'offensive cyber' run jointly by the MoD and GCHQ.
So far it has worked on Islamic State but this could be expanded towards Russia.
In an interview with the Mail last week, he said the military could hit back at disinformation spread by Russian trolling factories. He said: 'There are two ways you could respond. One is putting your own messages out to compete with the messages that actors like that are sending. And the other is with a cyber-attack.
'Whether or not you could use cyber as a weapon would depend upon the specific circumstances and the law.' He said that there was a specific capability in which troops tackle mistruths spread by enemies.
Russia's ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office at 3.45pm yesterday for a 'cool but firm' meeting with Boris Johnson. There was no handshake between the politicians as Mr Johnson outlined the 'outrage' felt by the British people.
She added: 'Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world leading experts at the laboratory at Port Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be cap able of doing so, Russia's record of conducting state sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views defectors as a legitimate target for assassination the government has concluded that it is highly likely Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.'
Mrs May said Boris Johnson had summoned the Russian ambassador in London yesterday afternoon and informed him of the findings.
Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia (pictured in Zizzi in 2016) left a trail of nerve agent in the restaurant after their poisoning +18
The investigation into the poisoning has led to a series of locations around Salisbury being sealed off and decontaminated
Soldiers in Hazmat suits closed down a village near Salisbury yesterday as they removed a recovery truck thought to have towed Mr Skripal's car from the scen
What is the Novichok nerve agent used against the Skripals?
The Novichok nerve agent used against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia is among the most deadly poisons ever created.
They were secretly developed by the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold war in the 1970s and 1980s.
Communist scientists developed the poison so it would not be able to be detected by Nato's chemical detection equipment.
They come in the form of a ultra-fine powder, Novichok is up to eight times more potent than the deadly VX gas.
Victims who are poisoned by the powder suffer muscle spasms, breathing problems and then cardiac arrest.
There is a known antidote to the nerve agent - atropine can block the poison.
But doctors find it very tricky to administer the antidote because the dose would have to be so high it could prove fatal for the person.
Novichok poisons are highly dangerous to handle, requiring the expertise of skilled scientists in a sophisticated lab.
Dr Vil Mirzayanov, former Chief of the Foreign Technical Counterintelligence Department at Russia’s premiere, was among the team of scientists who helped develop the agent.
In an article about the lethal weapon, he wrote: 'They are extremely dangerous – most likely lethal – for people who would try to synthesise or manipulate them without the help of highly experienced scientists and engineers in special laboratory installations observing extreme safety measures.
'Without exception, Novichok weapons cannot be used for any reason without specially trained military personnel under medical supervision.'
The Kremlin was given a deadline of midnight to respond to the evidence and the government could outline its 'detailed' retaliation later today.
'Should there be no credible response we will conclude that his action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom, and I will come back to this House and set out the full range of measures that we will take in response,' she said.
'This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent on a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals, it was an indiscriminate ad reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk,' she said.
'And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.'
While The White House's press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to even mention Russia as she condemned the attack, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was far more committal.
Having talked to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson yesterday, Tillerson said: 'We have full confidence in the UK's investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible for the nerve agent attack that took place in Salisbury last week.
'There is never a justification for this type of attack - the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation - and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behaviour.
'From Ukraine to Syria - and now the UK - Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.
'We agree that those responsible - both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it - must face appropriately serious consequences.
'We stand in solidarity with our allies in the United Kingdom and will continue to coordinate closely our responses.'
Theresa May is under growing pressure to go public with suspicions the Kremlin is to blame for the assassination attempt on the 66-year-old and his daughter, 33. Pictured: Military personnel wearing protective suits investigate at the scene on Sunday +18
Theresa May is under growing pressure to go public with suspicions the Kremlin is to blame for the assassination attempt on the 66-year-old and his daughter, 33. Pictured: Military personnel wearing protective suits investigate at the scene on Sunday
Anti-terror police also took over a Sainsbury's car park in Salisbury as part of the rapidly expanding chemical attack probe +18
Military personnel wearing protective suits remove a police car and other vehicles from a public car park as they continue investigations into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal yesterday
Counter-terrorism police and intelligence officers are thought to have presented compelling evidence at the NSC meeting that Moscow ordered the hit in Salisbury over a week ago.
The nerve agent - Novichok - that contaminated the victims was so secret that it was never known to have been used until now, the Times claimed.
MPs from across parties voiced support for Mrs May's robust reaction to the outrage on UK soil.
But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn drew shouts and jeers as he criticised the government for failing to 'talk' to the Kremlim and complained about Tory donations from Russian business figures.
'We need to continue seeking a robust dialogue with Russia on all the issues dividing our countries, both domestic and international - rather than simply cutting off contact and simply letting tensions and divisions get worse, and potentially even more dangerous,' Mr Corbyn said.
Theresa May has offered Russia a way to 'extricate themselves' from the Salisbury attack fallout by saying poison could have found its way into rogue hands, expert says
Theresa May has offered Russia a way to 'extricate themselves' from the Salisbury attack fallout, an expert has said.
The Prime Minister announced on Monday that a military-grade nerve agent Novichok was used in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
She told MPs that there were only two possible explanations - either Moscow was behind the attack or it had lost control of its stockpile of the poison.
Dr Jonathan Eyal, associate director at Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said that by offering the second option she was giving Russia an opportunity.
'It was a two-pronged message - it was a message suggesting that the British government is not prepared to pretend any longer that we do not know who is the culprit in this story,' he added.
'It was also an attempt to suggest to the Russians that they still have a chance to extricate themselves from the fallout.
'It was a rather clever attempt to delay what is likely to be a very difficult period in the relationship between the two countries.'
He continued: 'It's an interesting approach, she could have stood up in the House of Commons and said today that she was advised that it came from the Russians, a special chemical agent, and here is the British retaliation - she didn't do that precisely because it is clear that the downturn in the relationship is going to be pretty severe.'
The Kremlin has denied the involvement of the Russian government in the nerve agent attack on the Skripals.
Dr Eyal said the type of chemical agent used 'would not have been produced by a rogue person'.
'But the Prime Minister gave the possibility to the Russians of suggesting that there might have been rogue elements within the intelligence community,' he added.
Mrs May was giving the Kremlin a 'more elegant way out should it wish to take it', he said.
'Sadly I don't see any chance of the Russians taking it.
'The outcome will be that by Wednesday I think the Prime Minister will be in a stronger position to claim that all options have been explored and there is no escape from retaliatory measures.'
He faced shouts of 'shame' and 'disgrace' from Conservative MPs as he told the Commons: 'We're all familiar with the way huge fortunes, often acquired in the most dubious circumstances in Russia, sometimes connected with criminal elements, have ended up sheltering in London and trying to buy political influence in British party politics.
'Meddling in elections, as the Prime Minister put it, and there has been over £800,000 worth of donations to the Conservative Party from Russian oligarchs and their associates.'
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith branded Russia a 'rogue state' and demanded the 'most severe' response.
He said: 'If we appease a country like this, then we should expect even worse.'
Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chair Tom Tugendhat said the use of nerve gas was a 'war like act'.
Home Affairs Committee chair Yvette Cooper said a cross-party stand was needed against Russian aggression.
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