Russia ‘denies’ any part in Amesbury and Salisbury poisonings

Russia denies any part in Amesbury and Salisbury poisonings and labels Britain ‘DUMB’ to think Kremlin would use Novichok during the World Cup

  • Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley were taken ill on Saturday in Amesbury
  • It was eight miles from where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned in March
  • The Kremlin said it had received no appeal from Britain about the latest incident 
  • It restated Russia’s denial of involvement in the Novichok attack earlier this year 
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The Kremlin today claimed the UK was ‘dumb’ for thinking Russia would use a nerve agent to poison Britons while it hosts the World Cup.

Dawn Sturgess, 44, and Charlie Rowley, 45, were taken ill on Saturday in Amesbury, eight miles from where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were poisoned in Salisbury in March.

The Kremlin said it had received no appeal from Britain about the latest incident and restated Russia’s denial of involvement in the Novichok attack earlier this year. 

Dawn Sturgess (left), 44, and Charles Rowley (right), 45, are fighting for their lives after being exposed to remnants of a nerve agent that nearly killed a former Russian spy and his daughter

Police activity at Queen Elizabeth Gardens in Amesbury, Wiltshire, this morning, where a couple were left in a critical condition when they were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok

And the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands tweeted: ‘How dumb they think Russia is to use ‘again’ so-called ‘Novichok’ in the middle of the FIFA World Cup and after the special session of the CSP (convened by the way by Britain) that gave the OPCW attribution functions. The show must go on?’

The latest incident threatens to plunge Britain’s relations with Russia, where England are due to play their World Cup quarter-final on Saturday, into further trouble.

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But according to the state-owned Tass news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow: ‘I know nothing about any appeal.’

He added: ‘This is very disturbing news. Of course, it triggers profound concern in connection with the similar incidents in the UK. We wish them a speedy recovery.’ 

Police remain at a home in Amesbury today, where counter-terrorism officers are investigating

The Kremlin spokesman also reiterated how Russia denies any involvement in the attack in Salisbury on former Russian spy Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

Warning over Russian ‘misinformation’ over Wiltshire poisonings

The Government is said to be bracing for a Russian ‘misinformation campaign’ using false claims that the Wiltshire Novichok poisonings were a British attempt to undermine the World Cup hosts.

Russia is expected to launch ‘significant’ efforts to try to ‘confuse the public’ after the latest incident, a senior Government source said.

However the source said there was ‘no reason’ for any increased concern for the safety of England fans in Russia.

Relations between Britain and Russia were damaged over the attempted murder of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

‘They will try and claim this is Britain trying to stoke up anti-Russia sentiment during the World Cup,’ the source said.

‘But there is no reason to be concerned any more about the safety of England football fans in Russia.’

England’s participation in the World Cup became a prominent issue after the Salisbury incident in March.

The British Government blamed the Kremlin for the attack, which left the former Russian double-agent and his daughter critically ill.

While a complete boycott of the World Cup was ruled out, no senior Government officials or royals were expected to attend the competition.

Russia denies any involvement in the incident, claiming the British Government has used it for political gain. 

According to Tass, the spokesman said: ‘Russia has strongly denied its possible involvement in what happened there.

‘Britain has failed to provide any convincing evidence to substantiate its accusations against Russia.’

They said Russian appeals to conduct a joint investigation with the UK into the Salisbury incident ‘found no reciprocity’.

Security minister Ben Wallace said the ‘working assumption’ is that the pair were exposed to Novichok either as a result of the Salisbury attack or ‘something else’.

Referring to the Salisbury incident, Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think what we said at the time was that this was a brazen and reckless attack in the heart of a very peaceful part of the United Kingdom.

‘And that is part of the anger I feel about the Russian state is that they chose to use clearly a very, very toxic, highly dangerous weapon.’

But a tweet from the Russian Embassy in the UK said today: ‘Russia has called for a joint investigation into Salisbury from the very start, Ben Wallace. That proposal remains on the table.’ 

Investigators are believed to be working on a theory that Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley came into contact with the deadly substance in a part of Salisbury that was outside the clean-up launched after the attack against the Skripals.

There were also warnings that the new Novichok poisoning will raise ‘serious questions’ over the massive clean-up operation after the March incident. 

Public Health England (PHE) said it did not believe there to be a ‘significant health risk’ to the wider public, although its advice was being reviewed.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid was preparing to chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee today. Ms Sturgess and Mr Rowley remain critically ill.

Two people in hazmat suits secure a tent covering a bench in Salisbury on March 8 as they investigate the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia

Military personnel at a car park in Salisbury investigate the Skripal poisoning on March 11

Prime Minister Theresa May said: ‘All of my thoughts are with the victims and the people of Amesbury and Salisbury.

‘After the brazen and reckless attempt to murder the Skripals with Novichok in March, the community showed tremendous fortitude, patience and resilience.’

The episode in Salisbury – the first use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War – sparked international outrage.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied being behind the attack. Mr Skripal and his daughter Yulia have since left hospital.

What are the symptoms of Novichok and how does it linger?

Police have confirmed that a man and a woman from Amesbury, who are in a critical condition, have been exposed to the nerve agent Novichok.

It is the same substance used in the attack and poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

– What is Novichok?

A group of nerve agents which are more potent and lethal than VX or sarin.

They are made of two separate non-toxic substances that work as a nerve agent when brought together.

Dr Andrea Sella, professor of inorganic chemistry at University College London, said: “Novichok is not really very different from all the classics, you’ve got the same basic chemical framework at the heart of it.

“I’m not sure it’s ever really been used. There’s not much experience of seeing these things, they would have recognised it was some sort of nerve agent, which is part of the reason for the delay [in identifying it].”

– How long can it linger?

Dr Sella said it is “very disturbing” that the agent has been found four months after the first attack, but Novichok is designed not to break down.

“These things are designed to be persistent,” he said.

“They don’t evaporate, they don’t break up in water. The last four months have been dry so I suspect they can be there for quite a long time.”

If the substance was sealed, perhaps in a drinks bottle, then it could take even longer to break down, he added.

– Why was it created?

Novichok, which means newcomer in Russian, was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s as a new kind of chemical weapon that would be harder to detect, more potent than existing nerve agents and exempt from the Chemical Weapons Treaty.

Dr Sella said: “Novichok agents are ones that were kept very quiet by the Russians and developed to try and gain advantage against the more conventional things they knew Western governments had.”

– How does it work?

Novichok and other nerve agents attack the nervous system and stop chemical messages getting around the body.

They cause the heart to slow down and airways to become constricted, leading to suffocation or brain damage.

“It must be excruciatingly painful and unbelievably violent,” Dr Sella said.

“You have very painful muscle contractions, vision goes pretty quickly and what little you can see is blurred, then you can’t breathe.”

– What are the symptoms?

Nerve agents, including Novichok, can be inhaled as a fine powder, absorbed through the skin or ingested.

Symptoms can start within seconds or minutes of being exposed and include convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and death.

– How can it be treated?

The treatment for nerve agents is to administer an antidote immediately, but some of the damage from the chemical and oxygen starvation can be irreparable.

It is not known if there is an antidote available for Novichok.

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