U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Monday evening poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal “clearly came from Russia” and “certainly will trigger a response.”
Tillerson noted that he didn’t know whether the Kremlin knew about the “really egregious” March 4 attack on Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia,33, but that the poison – which is “only in the hands of a very, very limited number of parties,” could not have come from anywhere else.
“There is never a justification for this type of attack – the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation – and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior,” Tillerson said in a statement. “From Ukraine to Syria – and now the U.K. – Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”
Lashing out at Russia for what the US and its allies are now framing as Moscow’s “destabilizing role” in world affairs, Tillerson said “and now in the UK,” Moscow “continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens.”
The White House took a softer tone, declining to name Russia as the likely culprit.
“The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against UK citizens on UK soil is an outrage,” said Press Secretary Sarah Sanders. “Right now, we are standing with our UK ally,” Sanders said, adding “I think they’re still working through even some of the details of that, and we’re going to continue to work with the UK.”
Tillerson’s comments came hours after British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that the Kremlin was “highly likely” to be responsible for the attack in the southwestern city of Salisbury, and the UK government would consider it an “unlawful use of force.”
May fleshed out the evidence that the UK has gathered to make its determination, while insisting that actions would be taken to hold the regime accountable – raising the possibility of more sanctions against Russia.
Hedging her bets
Instead of outright declaring that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized the attack, May said UK intelligence have come up with two possibilities of the origin of nerve agent: The attack was either ordered by Putin, or Russia lost control of the nerve agent used against Skripal.
“Russia has previously produced this agent, and the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible,” May said.
May said that the attack happened “against a backdrop of Russian state agression,” citing the annexation of Crimea four years ago and unrest in the Donbas region. She also brought up election meddling.
May has given Russia 36 hours to explain how the exotic nerve agent wound up poisoning Skripal, or face “extensive measures.”
“I share the impatience of this house and the country at large to bring those responsible to justice and take a full range of appropriate responses….but as a nation that believes in justice and the rule of law it’s right we proceed in the right way,” said May, adding “There can be no question of business as usual with Russia.”