OPCW confirms British findings on Salisbury attack

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OPCW inspectors arrive to begin work at the scene of the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, in Salisbury, Britain. Reuters

THE HAGUE/LONDON, April 12 (Reuters) – Testing by four laboratories affiliated with the global chemical weapons watchdog have confirmed British findings on the nerve agent used in last month’s attack on a former Russian spy in England, a summary of the findings published on Thursday showed.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on March 12 that Sergei Skripal and his daughter Ms Yulia had been poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent from the Novichok group of poisons, developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ‘80s.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which collected its own samples in the city of Salisbury at Britain’s request, did not assign blame for the attack, in which Russia has denied involvement, or name the chemical agent.

“The results of analysis by OPCW-designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirm the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury and severely injured three people,” the summary said.

A British police officer was also taken ill after helping the Skripals.

The poisoning touched off one of the biggest diplomatic crises between Russia and Western nations since the Cold War, with both sides expelling scores of diplomats.

The OPCW laboratory results confirmed that the poison “was a military grade nerve agent – a Novichok”, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said, responding to the summary.

“There can be no doubt what was used and there remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible – only Russia has the means, motive and record,” he said.

The poisoning of Mr Skripal, a former double agent who settled in Britain in 2010 after being released by Moscow in a spy swap, shows “how reckless Russia is prepared to be”, the head of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency said on Thursday.

Russia has denied possessing the nerve agent Britain says was used while President Vladimir Putin has said it was nonsense to think Moscow would have poisoned Mr Skripal and his daughter.

The laboratory results will be debated at an emergency OPCW session next Wednesday, to be convened at Britain’s request.

It is unclear how the OPCW will respond. Its executive council has been unable to take decisions due to splits between the Western powers and Russia that have also prevented it from acting in the wake of ongoing use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Testing by OPCW laboratories, the details of which were kept confidential, also found the substance used in Salisbury to be of “a high purity”, which supports the British government’s assertion that a state was involved.

The laboratory results, which came in on Wednesday night, were to be circulated to OPCW member states yesterday.

Yulia Skripal, who was released from hospital on Monday, said in a statement she was suffering from the effects of the poisoning, while her father remained seriously ill. She said she was declining an offer of assistance from the Russian Embassy.

There are several variants of Novichok, a binary weapon containing two less-toxic chemicals that, when mixed, react to produce a poison several times more lethal than sarin or VX.

Russia’s ambassador to Britain, Alexander Yakovenko, has identified the alleged poison as Novichok A-234, derived from an earlier version known as A-232.

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