Russia and Britain trade barbs at chemical arms watchdog meeting

London brushes off Moscow's offer of joint investigation as 'diversionary tactic'

THE HAGUE: Russia and Britain faced off yesterday trading accusations at a tense meeting of the world's chemical weapons watchdog, as Moscow accused British and US secret services of being behind the poisoning of a Russian former double agent.

London slammed as "perverse" a Russian proposal for a joint probe into the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent, dismissing it as a "diversionary tactic".

But Russian officials hit back that accusations of Moscow engineering the attack were a "grotesque provocation... crudely concocted by the British and American security services".

British authorities said the Skripals were poisoned with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury town on March 4 and it was "highly likely" that Moscow was behind it.

The crisis has sent the long-difficult relations between Russia and the West plummeting to new lows. Both sides have already expelled scores of diplomats.

Russian foreign intelligence chief Sergei Naryshkin warned yesterday in a speech in Moscow that both sides must avoid tensions escalating to the dangerous levels seen at the height of the Cold War.

At a closed-door meeting of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, convened at the request of Moscow, Russia insisted it was ready to cooperate.

But the British delegation to the OPCW said "Russia's proposal for a joint, UK/Russian investigation into the Salisbury incident is perverse. It is a diversionary tactic."

Moscow was seeking to "evade the questions the Russian authorities must answer", it added in a tweet.

The British defence laboratory analysing the nerve agent revealed on Tuesday that it could not say whether the substance came from Russia. Moscow hailed that as a vindication of its repeated denials of involvement.

A diplomatic source, who asked not to be named, told AFP that Russia had tabled a motion asking the OPCW to "involve Russia in some way or another in the investigation".

The OPCW's experts have taken samples from the site in Salisbury and sent them to certified laboratories for analysis but are still awaiting the results. - AFP