Telegraph NewsSpy poisoning: 'Russia attempting to push Britain around', Gavin Williamson says
8 MARCH 2018 • 10:34AM
Britain must put up a stronger front against Russian military aggression, the Defence Secretary has said as he warned that "we are being pushed around" by the Kremlin.
As suspicions deepen over Russia's potential involvement in the poisoning of a former double agent, Sergei Skripal, Gavin Williamson said that Vladimir Putin's regime posed an "ever-greater threat".
His warning comes after a police officer poisoned by a "very rare" nerve agent in Salisbury while going to the aid of Mr Skripal and his daughter was said to be "talking and engaging" in hospital, according to the Home Secretary.
The targets of the attempted murder - Mr Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia - remain in a serious condition in intensive care, Amber Rudd added. They are understood to both be in comas.
Ms Rudd, who is is expected to make a statement in the Commons about the incident on Thursday, said she is "more optimistic" for the unnamed police officer. He was among the first to go to the aid of the pair, who were found slumped on a bench on Sunday afternoon.
The disclosure of the officer’s poisoning will add to growing pressure on the Government to take a hardline
approach against Russia if state involvement is confirmed.
Emergency workers wear protective equipment in Salisbury at one of the scenes of investigation of the nerve agent attack
Listing examples of Russian aggression in eastern Europe and its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine, Mr Williamson added that there was an urgent need to counter the Kremlin's "increasingly aggressive stance".
"Russia's changing the way they actually fight and raise the level of conflict," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "We are seeing this in the north Atlantic as well - the amount of submarines that are operating, there's a 10-fold increase in the last seven years.
"Russia's being assertive, Russia's being more aggressive, and we have to change the way that we deal with it because we can't be in a situation in these areas of conflict where we are being pushed around by another nation."
While Mr Williamson refused to say if he held Russia responsible for the attack in Salisbury, he described the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter as "absolutely disgusting".
Police on Wednesday said government scientists had identified the nerve agent used by would-be assassins at a shopping arcade in the Wiltshire city centre. The chemical used is "likely to be rarer than Sarin or VX nerve agents", a source told the BBC.
Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain in a serious condition in intensive care after being poisoned in Salisbury
Ms Rudd said more details about the nerve agent would not yet be made public, but told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that it was "very rare".
Poisoned police officer 'talking and engaging'
The poisoned police officer was initially treated in hospital as a precaution and then discharged, but his condition deteriorated and he was readmitted on Tuesday and taken into intensive care.
On Thursday morning, Ms Rudd disclosed that the officer is no longer critically ill.
She told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "I've spoken to Mark Rowley this morning. The two targets are still in very serious condition, the policeman is talking and is engaging so I'm more optimistic for him, but it's too early to say. This is a nerve agent, we are still treating it as very serious."
Asked if she was hopeful for the police officer, she said: "Indeed, hopeful, but it's still very serious." She added: "He is not in intensive care, but it's a serious situation."
Investigators at the back of Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury
Investigators continue to work at ones of the scenes in Salisbury on Wednesday CREDIT: PAUL GROVER FOR THE TELEGRAPH
Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, earlier described the events as “very troubling”. He said: “If this does turn out to be in any way the result of hostile activity by another government, or directed, led, by another government, then the people of this country can be absolutely sure that the UK will respond robustly.”
Ms Rudd declined to say whether she regarded Russia as responsible for the Salisbury attack, but said the Government will put a plan in place to respond when the culprit is identified.
Investigators outside the Zizzi restaurant in Salisbury, where the pair are believed to have dined before falling ill CREDIT: EDDIE MULHOLLAND FOR THE TELEGRAPH
"When we have all the evidence of what took place, we will - if it is appropriate - attribute it to somebody," the Home Secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"If that is the case then we will have a plan in place. We need to be very methodical, keep a cool head and be based on the facts, not rumour."
Video: Sergei Skripal days before he was poisoned
New CCTV footage emerges of Russian ex-spy
Ms Rudd added: "Let me be clear, we are absolutely robust about any crimes committed on these streets of the UK. There is nothing soft about the UK's response to any sort of state activity in this country.
"You may not hear about it all, but when we do see that there is action to be taken, we will take it."
Nerve agent 'rarer than Sarin or VX'
Hundreds of detectives, forensic officers and analysts are working on the case, which has drawn comparisons to the poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko on British soil in 2006.
A key focus will be working to uncover the origin of the nerve agent.
The BBC reported that a source familiar with the investigation said it was "likely to be rarer than Sarin or VX nerve agents".
Nerve agents, which are chemical weapons, have been used in assassinations and attacks in war zones in recent years.
Kim Jong-un's half-brother Kim Jong-nam was killed at an international airport in Malaysia last year in an attack using a nerve agent known as VX.
Another well-known nerve agent, Sarin gas, killed more than 90 people in a rebel-held area in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, drawing international condemnation of the Bashar Assad regime.
Access to such toxins are tightly regulated, meaning the Salisbury plot would have taken considerable planning to execute.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer of Britain's Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, told The Times: "This is not the stuff you can knock up in your back shed.
"It is quite challenging to make. The inference is that this has probably come from a major laboratory, probably state-run."
Police: Spy and daughter 'targeted specifically'
Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the head of counter-terrorism policing, revealed on Wednesday that the incident was being treated as attempted murder and the pair had been "targeted specifically".
He declined to specify the nerve agent or how it was administered.
Mr Rowley said: "Having established that a nerve agent was the cause of the symptoms, leading us to treat this as attempted murder, I can also confirm that we believe the two people who originally became unwell were targeted specifically.
"Our role now of course is to establish who is behind this and why they carried out this act."
Video: Mark Rowley's statement outside Scotland Yard
Police officer hospitalised as Scotland Yard reveals nerve agent was used in Russian spy case
Mr Rowley reiterated his appeal for anyone who was in Salisbury city centre on Sunday to come forward to help with the "missing pieces" in the case.
Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, said the incident posed a "low risk" to the public and advised that all the sites the pair were known to have visited had been "secured".
Russia denies responsibility for Salisbury attack
Russia has denied responsibility for the attack, which comes seven years after Mr Skripal was released from the country as part of a spy swap with the US.
He had been convicted in his home country in 2006 for passing state secrets to MI6.
The investigation has triggered a diplomatic row and prompted crisis talks in Whitehall, but Ms Rudd said police must respond to "evidence, not to rumour".https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/0 ... rve-agent/