Putin rejects spy attack claims as chemical weapons experts head to UK

Russian President Vladimir Putin at a polling station during the presidential election in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018
0

Putin rejects spy attack claims as chemical weapons experts head to UK

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Sunday rubbished claims that Russia poisoned a former spy in Britain, on the eve of international chemical weapons experts heading to the UK to probe the attack.
“It’s complete drivel, rubbish, nonsense that somebody in Russia would allow themselves to do such a thing ahead of elections and the World Cup,” Putin told supporters after winning a fourth term as president.
“We have destroyed all chemical weapons,” he added, rejecting Britain’s claim that only Moscow could be behind the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The poisoning in the English city of Salisbury on March 4 has led to a diplomatic crisis, with Britain expelling 23 Kremlin diplomats.
Technical experts from Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will visit Britain on Monday to collect samples of the nerve agent used in the attack.
“These will then be despatched to highly-reputable international laboratories selected by the OPCW for testing with results expected to take a minimum of two weeks,” said a statement by Britain’s Foreign Office.
Putin said Russia is “ready to take part in the investigation,” although earlier on Sunday British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused the Russians of “smug sarcasm and denial” in response to the accusations.
Moscow’s “malign, disruptive behavior” internationally was the reason why allies were “inclined not to give Russia the benefit of the doubt,” he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
Johnson also said Britain would target wealth linked to the Kremlin as a further measure following the spy poisoning.
“Where people have obtained wealth by corruption and where we can see a link with the Kremlin, with Vladimir Putin, it may be possible to have unexplained wealth orders and other sanctions on those individuals,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the government was considering something similar to the US “Magnitsky Act” which was adopted in 2012 to punish Russian officials accused of human rights violations.
The act imposed a visa ban and froze the assets of Russian officials implicated in the death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, a tax fraud whistleblower who died in Russian custody in 2009.
However, the minister faced awkward questions over a tennis match he played with the wife of former Kremlin minister Vladimir Chernukhin, in return for a £160,000 ($223,000, 181,500 euros) donation to his Conservative Party.
On Saturday, Russia’s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, said Moscow “had nothing to do” with the attack, accusing Johnson of “acting in an inappropriate manner” by pointing the finger at Putin.
“Russia has stopped production of any chemical agents back in 1992,” he told Marr, the day after Moscow expelled 23 British diplomats in a tit-for-tat measure.
But the Foreign Office dismissed the claim, saying it had “information indicating that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination.
“And part of this program has involved producing and stockpiling quantities of Novichok,” a statement said.
Chizhov also appeared to suggest that Britain itself may have been the source of the chemical agent.
“When you have a nerve agent, you check it against certain samples you have in your laboratories,” he said.
“And Porton Down, as we now all know, is the largest military facility in the UK that has been dealing with chemical weapons research — and it’s actually only eight miles from Salisbury.”
Johnson called the accusation “satirical,” adding it was “not the response of a country that really believes itself it to be innocent.”


Pakistani PM Khan vows to hold peace talks with India

Updated 2 min 2 sec ago
0

Pakistani PM Khan vows to hold peace talks with India

RIYADH: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan Tuesday vowed to hold peace talks with arch-rival India following elections in the neighboring country, after a similar offer from the former cricketer was “rebuffed.”
Khan made the announcement during a speech at a Saudi Arabian investment conference where the newly minted leader launched a charm offensive targeting potential investors as Pakistan seeks to secure funds amid a yawning balance of payment crisis.
“When I won the elections and came to power the first thing I tried to do was extend a hand of peace to India,” Khan told the crowd at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh, saying the overture was later “rebuffed” by Delhi.
“Now what we are hoping is that we wait until the elections then again we will resume our peace talks with India,” he added, referring to upcoming nationwide polls scheduled to take place by mid-May.
In September India pulled the plug on a rare meeting between its foreign minister and her Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of a UN summit — a move that was termed “arrogant” by Khan and unleashed a barrage of insults from both sides.
India has long accused Pakistan of backing militants in Kashmir, a Himalayan territory divided between the two countries but claimed in full by both since independence in 1947.
Delhi has stationed about 500,000 soldiers in the portion of Kashmir it controls, where separatist groups demand independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Khan’s call for peace talks comes as his administration is desperately seeking funds from “friendly” countries, including Saudi Arabia, to shore up Pakistan’s deteriorating finances.
The prime minister’s attendance at the FII comes as leading policy-makers and corporate chiefs shunned the conference in response to the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
During his address at the FII Khan confirmed that Pakistan was also in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a new bailout.
Since taking power in August Khan has also sought loans from allies such as China and Saudi Arabia, promised to recover funds stolen by corrupt officials, and embarked on a series of high-profile populist austerity measures.
But help has been in short supply and economists’ warnings have grown increasingly urgent.