Trudeau condemns 'despicable' spy poisoning in the U.K., says Russia likely to blame

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is condemning the use of a chemical agent in a March 4 attack in the United Kingdom, telling reporters Wednesday he believes Russia likely was involved in the incident that sent a former spy and his daughter to hospital.

Canada is not yet considering sanctions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a roundtable with steel industry leaders in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Trudeau condemned the 'despicable' attack on a former spy in the U.K. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is condemning the use of a chemical agent in a March 4 attack in the United Kingdom, telling reporters Wednesday he believes Russia likely was involved in the incident that sent a former spy and his daughter to hospital.

Trudeau said he spoke with British Prime Minister Theresa May late Wednesday, telling her Canada stands behind Britain. The U.K. is expelling Russian diplomats in retaliation over the attack.

"The attack is despicable and it is unacceptable that there would be chemical weapons used against citizens of the United Kingdom," Trudeau told reporters in Evraz, Sask. after touring a steel plant.

"Russia's likely involvement is absolutely unacceptable and needs to be condemned in the strongest terms. That's what I told Teresa May and that is what I'm glad to repeat here today."

Trudeau also offered his condolences to the victims.

A statement from White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also accepted the U.K.'s position that Russia likely was behind the attack and said the United States would stand in solidarity with the U.K. — a country she called America's "closest ally" — as it it moves to expel Russian diplomats.

"This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behaviour in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes," she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada condemns what she called "the despicable use of a chemical agent."

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says she's reached out to her British counterpart, Boris Johnson, to condemn the attack. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

But for now, Canada isn't following the U.K. in levelling new sanctions against Russia, which is accused of using the nerve agent against former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Both remain in critical condition in a Salisbury hospital.

Freeland said she has reached out to her British counterpart Boris Johnson.

U.K. High Commissioner to Canada Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque discusses the nerve agent attack in Salisbury and the U.K.'s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats. 7:11

"Russia's likely involvement in this attack is a serious breach of the rules-based order," said Freeland in a statement.

A media release from the Russian Embassy in Ottawa takes issue with Freeland's comments.

"We regret Canadian foreign minister's hasty support for the unfounded and unacceptable accusations on the part of UK with regard to the Skripal case," it reads. "The British blame game based on the word 'likely,' but not on trustworthy investigation, hard facts and proper international procedures, is highly reprehensible and extremely counterproductive."

May announced on Wednesday that Britain would expel 23 Russian diplomats, giving them one week to leave.

It's being reported as the largest such expulsion since the Cold War. The U.K. is also considering freezing certain assets. No British ministers or members of the Royal Family will attend the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer as well.

Will Englund, an editor on the Washington Post's foreign desk, on the nerve agent used in the U.K. attack and how he came to break the story of its existence in 1992. 8:02

Freeland's office said Canada isn't considering similar sanctions at this time.

In a speech in the U.K.'s Parliament on Wednesday, May claimed the Russian state is guilty of attempted murder.

Although there has been no conclusive determination of who was behind the poisonings, May said: "There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury."

She acted after Moscow ignored a deadline of midnight Tuesday night to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to target Skripal.

Bill Browder, staunch Putin critic and head of the Global Magnitsky Justice campaign, weighs in on the intensifying diplomatic fallout stemming from Russia's alleged use of a military-grade nerve agent against two civilians on British soil. 5:48

On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia would only co-operate with Britain on the investigation if it received samples of the poison collected by investigators. The Russian Embassy in the U.K. also warned any sanctions would "meet with a response."​

With files from Canadian Press