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Britain says it has proof Russia stockpiled lethal nerve agent
[LONDON] Britain has evidence that Russia has been manufacturing and stockpiling the nerve agent used in an attack on a former Russian double agent on British soil, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Sunday.
Mr Johnson said Russia had been actively researching the use of nerve agents for use in assassinations within the past decade.
The foreign secretary's statements, made in a BBC interview, came 12 days after the former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, in south-western England, on March 4.
Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain announced the following week that the poison used in the attack was Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent developed by Soviet scientists for use on Nato troops.
The identification of Novichok as the weapon has become the linchpin of the British case for Russia's culpability in the poisoning. Though one of the scientists who developed the nerve agent, Vil Mirzayanov, published its chemical structure and now lives in the United States, it is extremely dangerous to manufacture. He said in an interview that the only laboratories known to have fine-tuned the process were in Russia and parts of the former Soviet Union.
Russian officials have strenuously argued against this in recent days.
In Moscow on Sunday, in his first extensive remarks about the poisoning, President Vladimir Putin called it "total rubbish, drivel and nonsense" to think that someone in Russia would carry out such "antics" so close to Russia's presidential election, which was Sunday, and the World Cup soccer tournament, which begins in June.
He also denied that Russia had any such substance.
On Sunday morning, Russia's ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, suggested to a BBC reporter that Britain must have had samples of Novichok at its chemical weapons laboratory, Porton Down, near the site of the attack. He suggested that would have been the only way for British authorities to identify the nerve agent so soon.
Mr Chizhov, however, backed away when asked whether he was accusing Britain of exposing the Skripals to the lethal poison, saying: "I don't know. I don't have any evidence of anything having been used."