International watchdog backs UK findings on Salisbury nerve agent attack

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The international chemical weapons watchdog has backed Britain’s findings about the identity of the chemical used in the Salisbury nerve agent attack

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said an analysis of samples taken from former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, his daughter Yulia and a British police officer affected in the incident last month confirmed the assessment of the UK Government.

An executive summary released by the OPCW does not directly name Novichok – the military grade agent developed by Russia which Britain has said was used – or identify the source of the chemical.

The findings were welcomed by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who said they backed Britain’s assertion that only Russia could have carried out the attack.

“This is based on testing in four independent, highly reputable laboratories around the world. All returned the same conclusive results,” Mr Johnson said in a statement.

“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.

“We invited the OPCW to test these samples to ensure strict adherence to international chemical weapons protocols. We never doubted the analysis of our scientists at Porton Down.”

He said Britain has called a meeting of the OPCW executive council in The Hague for Wednesday to discuss “next steps”, adding; “The Kremlin must give answers.”

In its executive summary, the OPCW said: “The results of the analysis by the OPCW-designated laboratories of environmental and biomedical samples collected by the OPCW team confirms 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 OPCW said the name and structure of the chemical was included in the full classified report issued to the governments of member states.

It noted that the chemical was of “high purity” with an “almost complete absence” of impurities, seen as backing Britain’s assertion that a state actor was involved.

The head of the GCHQ intelligence agency, former MI5 officer Jeremy Fleming, described Moscow’s actions as “particularly stark and shocking”.

Speaking at a conference in Manchester hosted by the National Cyber Security Centre, he said: “It demonstrates how reckless Russia is prepared to be. How little the Kremlin cares for the international rules-based order. How comfortable they are at putting ordinary lives at risk.”

The UK invited the OPCW to carry out a technical investigation after Moscow strongly challenged its assertion that responsibility for the attack lay with the Kremlin.

The OPCW said it had taken blood samples from the three affected individuals under “full chain of custody” for analysis at its laboratories, as well as checking their identities against official photo ID documents.

It also conducted on-site sampling from “hot spots” of contamination in Salisbury.

Samples taken by the British authorities were supplied to OPCW laboratories in Rijswijk in the Netherlands for comparative analysis to verify the UK’s findings.

The release of the report came as Ms Skripal, 33, revealed she has rejected assistance from the Russian embassy, adding: “I want to stress that no-one speaks for me, or for my father, but ourselves.”

In a statement released through the Metropolitan Police, she said she has found herself in a “totally different life” as she continues to recover from the attack.

The Russian embassy said it doubted the authenticity of the statement and suggested it had been crafted to support Britain’s version of events.

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