Britain gives midnight deadline to Putin over nerve attack

LONDON: President Vladimir Putin had until midnight today (8am, Singapore time) to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to strike down a former Russian double agent who passed secrets to British intelligence.

Mr Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital in a critical condition since March 4 when they were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in the southern English cathedral city of Salisbury.

Prime Minister Theresa May said it was "highly likely" that Moscow was to blame after Britain identified the substance as part of the Novichok group of nerve agents, which were developed by the Soviet military during the 70s and 80s.

"It is now clear that Mr Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia," Mrs May said.

"Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others."

Mrs May said failing to meet the deadline would mean Mr Putin, who faces a presidential election on March 18, would have to deal with "much more extensive" measures against the US$1.5 trillion (S$1.97 trillion) Russian economy.


Russia yesterday rejected Britain's ultimatum and said London should provide Moscow with access to the nerve agent.

"Before giving ultimatums, it is better to honour your own obligations on international law," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters, referring to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Russia's top diplomat said Britain should have sent Moscow an official request about the substance used on its soil.

Mr Lavrov said Russia had not received such a request. - REUTERS