UK deploys military in Russia-spy attack probe

Flowers adorn the grave of Ludmila Skripal, wife of Sergei Skripal at the London road cemetery in Salisbury on Mar. 8, 2018. Sergei Skripal, 66, is unconscious in a critical but stable condition in hospital. (AFP)
Updated 10 March 2018
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UK deploys military in Russia-spy attack probe

LONDON: British police requested military assistance in investigating a nerve agent attack on a former Russian double agent as speculation mounted Friday about how London could respond if a state actor were to blame.
Police extended the cordon around the modest suburban home of Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, the quiet city in southwestern England where he and his daughter Yulia were found slumped on a bench on Sunday.
The pair remain unconscious in a critical but stable condition, while Nick Bailey, one of the first police officers on the scene, is now sitting up and talking after initially being admitted to intensive care.
With police also hurt in the attack, pressure is intensifying on Prime Minister Theresa May to find and punish the culprits.
The involvement of "a British citizen, especially a policeman, requires the immediate and strong involvement of the British authorities," Chatham House analyst Mathieu Boulegue told AFP.
Around 21 people have been treated, according to Kier Pritchard, chief constable for Wiltshire Police.
"A number of those have been through the hospital treatment process, they're having blood tests, they're having treatment in terms of support and advice," he added.
Authorities are racing to find the source of the nerve agent used against 66-year-old Skripal, who came to Britain in 2010 as part of a spy swap, as politicians warned it bore the hallmarks of an attack by Russia.
National counter-terrorism police, who are leading the investigation, announced on Friday that they had requested assistance from the military "to remove a number of vehicles and objects from the scene".
"Military assistance will continue as necessary during this investigation," they added, with media reporting that more than 100 personnel may be involved.
During a visit to the site on Friday, interior minister Amber Rudd called the attack "outrageous" but urged people to "give the police the space they need to really go through the area carefully, to do their investigation".
In response to questions over Russia's possible involvement, May has said that "if action needs to be taken then the government will do that".
Possible responses include the expulsion of some of Russia's 58 diplomats, some kind of boycott of the 2018 football World Cup or an increased British military presence in eastern Europe.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson floated the idea of deepening sanctions against Russian officials, but Britain would have to persuade its international partners.
Moscow has reacted angrily to the accusations it was involved, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday dismissing them as baseless "propaganda".
On Thursday, however, Russian state TV presenter Kirill Kleimyonov had appeared to deliver a veiled warning, saying: "Don't choose England as your future country of residence... whether you are a professional traitor to the motherland or whether you hate your country in your spare time."
Analyst Boulegue said it would be "extremely difficult" to pinpoint who committed the attack, and that the response could be a lot more complicated if it turned out that internal factions were responsible.
"It is possible that it is related to the elections in Russia or that it is part of a battle between the elites within the security services, to send messages either to the English or to the Russian elites," he said.
Police have cordoned off the bench where the pair were found, as well as an Italian restaurant and a pub they visited before their collapse.
The also sealed off the grave of Skripal's wife, Liudmila, who died in 2012 from cancer, as well as the memorial stone of his son, Alexander, who was cremated last year after reportedly dying of liver problems.
The Times newspaper said police were probing whether Skripal's daughter, who arrived in Britain from Moscow last week, may have inadvertently brought in the nerve agent as a gift.
Skripal was a former colonel in Russian military intelligence who was jailed in his country for betraying agents to Britain's MI6 secret service.
He was pardoned in 2010 before being flown to Britain as part of a high-profile spy swap involving Russia and the United States.


N.Korea’s Kim to Putin: US acted in ‘bad faith’ at Hanoi talks

Updated 3 min 18 sec ago
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N.Korea’s Kim to Putin: US acted in ‘bad faith’ at Hanoi talks

  • At Hanoi, Pyongyang demanded immediate relief from US sanctions, but the two sides disagreed over what the North was prepared to give up in return
  • Russia has already called for the sanctions to be eased, while the US has accused it of trying to help Pyongyang evade some of the measures
VLADIVOSTOK, Russia: At his first summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accused the United States of acting in “bad faith” at their most recent talks, state media in Pyongyang said Friday.
Kim and Putin met Thursday in the far eastern Russian port of Vladivostok, for their first summit — squarely aimed at countering US influence as Kim faces off with Donald Trump over Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.
Putin was keen to put Moscow forward as a player in a new global flashpoint — and it appears Kim was eager to take him up on the idea, during talks described by KCNA as “unreserved and friendly.”
The two leaders greeted each other warmly, shaking hands and sharing smiles, at the start of meetings on an island off Vladivostok that lasted nearly five hours.
Putin, known for delaying meetings with international guests, was waiting for Kim when he emerged from his limousine.
During the talks, Kim said “the situation on the Korean peninsula and the region is now at a standstill and has reached a critical point,” the Korean Central News Agency said.
He warned that the situation “may return to its original state as the US took a unilateral attitude in bad faith at the recent second DPRK-US summit talks,” the agency added.
“Peace and security on the Korean peninsula will entirely depend on the US future attitude, and the DPRK will gird itself for every possible situation,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
The Kim-Trump summit broke down in late February without a deal on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
At those talks, cash-strapped Pyongyang demanded immediate relief from sanctions, but the two sides disagreed over what the North was prepared to give up in return.
Russia has already called for the sanctions to be eased, while the US has accused it of trying to help Pyongyang evade some of the measures — accusations Moscow denies.
Just a week ago, Pyongyang demanded the removal of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from the stalled nuclear talks, accusing him of derailing the process.
On Thursday, Putin emerged from the meeting saying that like Washington, Moscow supports efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula and prevent nuclear conflicts.
But he also insisted that the North needed “guarantees of its security, the preservation of its sovereignty.”
“We need to... return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world,” Putin said.


Kim said he hoped to usher in a “new heyday” in ties between Pyongyang and Moscow.
Both men said they were looking to strengthen ties that date back to the Soviet Union’s support for the founder of North Korea, Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung.
The two shared a lunch that included borscht, crab salad and venison dumplings, Russian news agency TASS reported.
The North Korean leader invited Putin to visit North Korea “at a convenient time” and the invitation was “readily accepted,” KCNA said.
Kim, who arrived in Vladivostok aboard his armored train, was expected to stay until Friday for cultural events that Russian media have reported will include a ballet and a visit to the city’s aquarium.


The meeting was Kim’s first with another head of state since returning from his Hanoi summit with Trump.
It followed repeated invitations from Putin after Kim embarked on a series of diplomatic overtures last year.
Since March 2018, the North Korean leader has held four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, two with Trump and one with Vietnam’s president.
Putin told reporters that he would fill in Washington on the results of the talks.
“There are no secrets here, no conspiracies... Chairman Kim himself asked us to inform the American side of our position,” said Putin.
There were no concrete announcements or agreements in Vladivostok, but analysts said Thursday’s meeting was valuable to both sides.
“For North Korea, it’s all about securing another exit. China talks about sanctions relief but it doesn’t really put it into action,” said Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“For Russia, North Korea is elevating it back to one of the direct parties, on the same footing as China.”


Among the issues that were likely discussed was the fate of some 10,000 North Korean laborers working in Russia and due to leave by the end of this year under sanctions.
Labour is one of North Korea’s key exports and sources of cash. Pyongyang has reportedly asked Russia to continue to employ its workers after the deadline.
Soon after his first election as Russian president, Putin sought to normalize relations with Pyongyang and met Kim Jong Il — the current leader’s father and predecessor — three times, including a 2002 meeting also held in Vladivostok.
China has since cemented its role as the isolated North’s most important ally, its largest trading partner and crucial fuel supplier, and analysts say Kim could be looking to balance Beijing’s influence.
The last meeting between the leaders of Russia and North Korea came in 2011, when Kim Jong Il told then-president Dmitry Medvedev that he was prepared to renounce nuclear testing.
His son has since overseen by far the country’s most powerful blast to date, and launch of missiles which Pyongyang says are capable of reaching the entire US mainland.
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