UK envoy snubs Moscow meeting on spy poisoning


Moscow (AFP)

Britain said Wednesday its ambassador will snub a Moscow meeting on the poisoning of a spy in England as Russia's foreign minister threatened further retaliation against "anti-Russian measures."

The Kremlin slammed the planned absence of British ambassador Laurie Bristow from a meeting being hosted by the foreign ministry, saying it showed London's unwillingness to cooperate.

On Tuesday, Moscow had invited all ambassadors to Russia to a meeting with foreign ministry experts to hear its views on the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in an English city earlier this month.

Vladimir Yermakov, director of the ministry's non-proliferation and arms control department, will brief foreign embassy representatives at 1200 GMT, an official told AFP.

But several Western diplomatic missions said their chiefs would not go.

"The ambassador will not be attending the meeting," British embassy spokeswoman Zeenat Khanche told AFP, adding that the mission was considering sending a "working level" official.

"Perhaps this is another eloquent demonstration of the absurdity of the situation when questions are being asked but the unwillingness to hear some answers is being shown," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

The head of European Commission delegation to Russia will also not attend because "he is not the country," its spokeswoman Luca Eszter Kadar told AFP.

Instead, his deputy, Sven-Olov Carlsson, will attend the gathering, she said.

The German and French embassies said they planned to send representatives to the meeting.

Russia is facing huge pressure from Britain and its allies to explain how Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned on British soil with a nerve agent the UK says is Soviet-designed.

Moscow has denied being involved.

- 'Principle of reciprocity' -

The March 4 attack in the English city of Salisbury has plunged Russia's ties with Britain and its allies into a new crisis.

Britain has thrown out 23 Russian diplomats over the attack, prompting a tit-for-tat response from Moscow.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is on a visit to Japan, urged the British government to "respond calmly" over the attack on the Skripals, who remain in critical condition.

"If the British government continues taking some anti-Russian measures, we will hit back under the principle of reciprocity," he said after a meeting with Japanese counterpart Taro Kono.

"Overall, there is no doubt that the British leadership has knowingly chosen to undermine the British-Russian relationship."

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May said London was "actively considering" other measures.

Putin -- who secured a landslide victory in Sunday's poll -- has dismissed allegations of Moscow's responsibility as "nonsense".

Russian officials said Putin had received a record vote share of more than 76 percent as Russians closed ranks behind their leader.

- 'Proud of our country' -

The Russian diplomats and their families -- around 80 people in total -- arrived from London late Tuesday.

"We are very happy to have returned home," Yekaterina, the wife of one of the diplomats, was quoted as saying by TASS state news agency.

"We are proud of our country, that we've managed to prove our innocence despite all the accusations."

Britain says only Russia had the capability, motive and intent to be behind the attack, in which it says the nerve agent Novichok, developed by the Soviet Union, was used.

The EU has expressed its solidarity with Britain and at a summit later this week, its leaders will agree to "coordinate on the consequences" for Russia, according to a draft statement seen by AFP.

However, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to have ignored the poisoning row when he called to congratulate Putin on his re-election and proposed a summit in the "not-too-distant future".

On Tuesday, the head of the OPCW chemical watchdog said it would take two to three weeks to complete laboratory analysis of samples taken from the poisoning.