- Video report by ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo
Vladimir Putin is ultimately responsible for the Salisbury nerve agent attack that left three people fighting for their life and killed an innocent mother, a Government minister has told ITV News.
This was followed up by a joint statement from leaders of the UK, US, France, Germany and Canada, backing Britain's assessment that the two suspects were Russian intelligence officers and their operation was “almost certainly” approved at a senior level of the Moscow government.
It came after Security Minister Ben Wallace said that while Russia's GRU intelligence service carried out the attack, it is President Putin who is "ultimately responsible for his government's actions".
He added: "It is safe to say that it was not a freelance operation by the GRU or operatives or anything else, it was clearly supported by the wider Russian state."
He went on to criticise the Russian intelligence service, saying the failed operation proves "the GRU can't really run a bath".
British and Russian officials came face-to-face Thursday at the UN Security Council where it was briefed on evidence relating to the Russian suspects, hours after Theresa May said the Moscow agents were behind the deadly poisoning.
At the meeting Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nebenzya, said evidence presented by Britain on Salisbury nerve agent attack is an "unfounded and mendacious cocktail of facts".
This came after the Kremlin itself responded to the allegations it was behind the attack, saying it will not investigate the two men named as suspects.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said on that Theresa May’s accusations are "unacceptable" and that "no one in the Russian leadership" has anything to do with the poisoning.
Mr Peskov added Russia "has no reasons" to investigate the two individuals charged on Wednesday because Britain has not asked for legal assistance on the case.
Police and prosecutors announced on Wednesday they had enough evidence to charge the men, named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, over the poisoning in March.
The Prime Minister told MPs it was carried out by two Russian spies and sanctioned at a “senior level” by Vladimir Putin’s regime.
She told the Commons investigations have concluded that the two suspects are members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service, and it was not a “rogue operation”.
Commenting on the failed assassination attempt that resulted in the death of an innocent mother, Mr Wallace said it was a "proper planned deliberate assault carried out by a couple of duffers".
He added: "If it wasn't so tragic, the death of Dawn Sturgess, it would be almost comical, they were so reckless.
"Their amateurism endangered the lives of Britons, casting aside Novichok nerve agent recklessly put at risk and did ultimately lead to the death of a British citizen."
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia will be represented at Thursday’s meeting – called by Britain to update members on progress in the Salisbury investigation – alongside UK allies such as the US and France.
Australia on Thursday said it was in “lock step” with the UK on the importance of holding Russia to account over the “heinous” attack, although it is not currently a council member.
Mrs May did not explicitly blame the Kremlin for authorising the attempted assassination, although senior Conservatives directly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of approving the operation.
Commons Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said there was “no doubt it was state ordered and President Putin bears responsibility for a war-like act”.
The charge d’affaires at Russia’s London embassy was summoned to the Foreign Office for a dressing-down by an official following Mrs May’s statement.
The PM told MPs the UK would push for new sanctions against Russians responsible for cyber attacks, additional listings under the existing regime and promised to work with intelligence allies to “counter the threat posed by the GRU”.
- What we know about the GRU intelligence officer suspects
While the suspects have been named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Neil Basu said it is likely they were travelling under fake aliases.
The pair, believed to be aged around 40, are thought to be officers for the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU.
The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command, considered a threat to British citizens and allies..
The Prime Minister claimed the GRU was ordered by a member of the Russian state to send officers to the UK to carry out the attack.
The two suspects spent two days in the UK before arriving back in Moscow.
- Suspect's movements up to and following poisoning
- At 3pm on Friday, March 2, the suspects arrive at Gatwick airport, having flown from Moscow on Aeroflot flight SU2588, two days before the attack.
- They then travel by train into London, arriving at Victoria station at approximately 5.40pm.
- They travel on London public transport to Waterloo station the travel to the City Stay Hotel in Bow Road, East London, where they stayed on Friday, 2 March, and Saturday, March 3.
- On Saturday, March 3, they leave the hotel and take the underground to Waterloo station, where they caught a train to Salisbury, arriving at approximately 2.25pm. It is believed this trip was for reconnaissance of the Salisbury area there was no risk to the public from their movements on this day.
- They take the same route when they return to London on the afternoon of Saturday, March 3. Leaving Salisbury at approximately 4.10pm and arriving in Bow at approximately 8.05 pm.
- On Sunday, March 4, they make the same journey from the hotel, again using the underground from Bow to Waterloo station at approximately 8.05am, before continuing their journey by train to Salisbury.
- CCTV shows them in the vicinity of Mr Skripal’s house and it is believed they contaminated the front door with Novichok.
- They leave Salisbury and return to Waterloo Station, arriving at approximately 4.45pm and board the London Underground at approximately 6.30pm to London Heathrow Airport.
- From Heathrow Airport, they return to Moscow on Aeroflot flight SU2585, departing at 10.30pm on Sunday, March 4.
Former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were left critically ill after being exposed to the military grade nerve agent Novichok in March.
The alleged perpetrators were identified in a dramatic joint police and Crown Prosecution Service press conference.
Detectives believe it is likely the pair, thought to be aged around 40, travelled under aliases and that Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names.
Prosecutors deem it futile to apply to Russia for the extradition of the two men, but a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained and the authorities are also seeking the assistance of Interpol.
Detectives believe the front door of Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home was contaminated with Novichok on Sunday March 4.
Mr Skripal, 67, and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury city centre the same day and spent weeks critically ill in hospital.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu also confirmed officers have now linked the attack on the Skripals to events in nearby Amesbury four months later.
In the second incident, Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, were exposed to the same nerve agent used in Salisbury.
Ms Sturgess died in hospital in July, just over a week after the pair fell ill.
In a statement, the Russian Embassy in the UK accused the British authorities of being unwilling to engage with them and called on the Government to “give up politicised public accusations”.