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UK, US, France and Germany blame Russia for spy attack

Emmanuel Dunand, AFP | The leaders of France, Germany and the UK attend a European Union summit in Brussels on June 22, 2017.

The leaders of the United States, France, Germany and Britain have said they are united in blaming Russia for a nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal, urging Moscow to disclose details of a Soviet chemical weapons programme.

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In a rare joint statement, President Donald Trump, President Emmanual Macron, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Theresa May said "there is no plausible alternative explanation" to Russian responsibility in the March 4 attack in England.

"We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal" in Salisbury, said the statement issued by the British government.

The four leaders said Russia's failure to respond to Britain's "legitimate request" for an explanation "further underlines its responsibility", describing the use of a chemical weapon as "an assault on UK sovereignty" and "a breach of international law".

Britain has expelled 23 Russian diplomats and suspended high-level contacts with Moscow over the incident. Russia, which denies involvement, is expected to take retaliatory measures soon.

Shortly after the four Western powers released their statement, the NATO military alliance accused Russia of trying to destabilise the West with new nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and covert action.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the use of the Novichok nerve agent against Skripal and his daughter "happened against a backdrop of a reckless pattern of Russian behaviour over many years".

Stoltenberg listed Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, its direct support for separatists in Ukraine, its military presence in Moldova and Georgia, meddling in Western elections and its involvement in the war in Syria as evidence of Russia's threat.

Analysis: 'West saying it's fed up with pattern of Russian aggression'

French support

Earlier on Thursday, Britain won the support of France's Macron, whose administration had initially appeared reticent to accuse Russia directly.

“Since the start of the week, Britain has kept France closely informed of the evidence gathered by British investigators and of elements demonstrating Russian responsibility in the attack," Macron's office said after a Thursday morning call between the French leader and the British prime minister.

“France shares Britain’s assessment that there is no other plausible explanation and reiterates its solidarity with his ally,” Macron’s office said.

Macron and May condemned “all use of chemical weapons” and agreed “on the importance of European and transatlantic unity” in response to the attack, the French presidency added in a statement.

Western sabre-rattling 'unlikely' to change Russian behaviour

Later, Macron told reporters during a visit to central France that his country would take action over the “unacceptable attack”.

“I will announce the measures that we are going to take in the coming days,” he said. The French president also said he would discuss the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is due in Paris on Friday.

A British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said London was “grateful for French solidarity at this time”.

“As President Macron said this morning, the unity of our European and transatlantic alliance is essential as we respond to Russian behaviour.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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