US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has thrown his support behind UK allegations that Russia is responsible for the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK, whether directly or through negligence.
The poisoning is "a really egregious act" and will "certainly trigger a response," Tillerson told reporters on board an aircraft as he was returning to Washington DC from Nigeria. And, although he admits he does not know whether the Russian government had knowledge of the attack, he has agreed with British investigators that Moscow is "likely responsible."
Tillerson said that the US has “full confidence” in the investigation carried out by the UK authorities and in the preliminary conclusions they have reached on Russia’s alleged complicity in the former spy's death. The US diplomat, however, like the UK PM before him, used the word “appears” when attributing the “attempted murder” to Russia and stopped short of providing any new evidence to support the claims.
He used the opportunity to again lash out at Russia for what the US and its allies are pitching as Moscow's "destabilizing role" in Ukraine and Syria, “and now the UK.” Moscow, Tillerson alleged, ”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.”
It appears that the White House and the State Department are out of sync on the matter. Shortly before Tillerson endorsed the UK government, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to attribute the incident, hinting that more proof is essential to drawing any definite conclusions.
"The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against UK citizens on UK soil is an outrage," Sanders said, without speculating on culpability.
"Right now, we are standing with our UK ally," she said, when pressed by a reporter on whether the White House condemnation of the incident means it is joining the blame game. "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,” Sanders responded.
Earlier, UK Prime Minister Theresa May gave Moscow until Wednesday to explain Russia’s alleged role in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Speaking in the House of Commons, she alleged that the attack was either a plot by the Russian state perpetrated on British soil or a result of Russia’s negligence that allowed a military-grade toxic agent to leave a laboratory and fall into the wrong hands.
May’s accusations against Russia have yet to be backed by proof, as no evidence has so far been released into the public domain. It did not stop MPs from pinning the blame on Russia, however, berating it as a “rogue state” and the incident as a “warlike act” that calls for a prompt response from the EU and NATO.
Alexander Litvinenko, an ex-KGB agent who fled to Britain in 2000, died in November 2006 after being poisoned with radioactive polonium 210, which was allegedly slipped into his tea. His former colleague and now Russian State Duma deputy Andrey Lugovoy was charged with the murder but denies any responsibility.
Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky was found dead in his estate near London in March 2013. The death of the businessman, who had turned into a vocal Kremlin critic in his later years, triggered speculation about Moscow’s role. However, British police have found no foul play.