EU blames Moscow for UK spy attack, recalls envoy
BRUSSELS – Agence France-Presse
European Union leaders united behind British Prime Minister Theresa May on March 22 in blaming Russia for a nerve agent attack in England, and agreed to recall their ambassador to Moscow for consultations.
Some states are now considering following Britain’s lead in expelling Russian diplomats, with Lithuania and France among those indicating a willingness to take action.
British Prime Minister Theresa May had pressed the importance of a united response to the March 4 poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.
At a summit in Brussels, the 28 EU leaders offered her their full support, agreeing “that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and that there is no plausible alternative explanation.”
They pledged to “coordinate on the consequences,” and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said they had agreed to recall the bloc’s ambassador to Moscow for consultations.
“Some member states are looking into possibly expelling Russian diplomats or recalling national diplomats,” an EU official added.
Moscow strongly denies any involvement but London has identified the chemical used as the Soviet-designed Novichok, and says Russia had the means and the motive to carry out the attack.
May emphasised to EU leaders that it came as part of a “pattern of Russian aggression” and warned Moscow would pose a threat for “years to come” -- long past Britain’s exit from the bloc in March next year.
“The threat that Russia poses respects no borders and it is a threat to our values,” she said after briefing fellow leaders over dinner.
“It is right that here in the EU council we are standing together to uphold those values.”
The Skripals are both in a coma after they were found collapsed on a park bench, although a policeman who was also contaminated was released from hospital on March 22.
The United States, France and Germany offered early backing for the conclusion that Moscow was to blame for the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II.
But Britain’s efforts to win a tough line from all 28 EU members ran up against countries keen to protect their Kremlin ties, notably Greece and Italy.