Russia's claim of 2nd Salisbury nerve agent rejected by watchdog

The head of the global chemical watchdog agency has rejected Russian claims that traces of a second nerve agent were discovered in the English city where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned.

Moscow denies poisoning, accuses U.K. of concocting a string of lies

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in March 4 in Salisbury. Yulia has been released from hospital, while her father is said to be recovering more slowly. (Misha Japaridze/AP; Yulia Skripal/Facebook via AP)

The head of the global chemical watchdog agency has rejected Russian claims that traces of a second nerve agent were discovered in the English city where former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned.

Britain blames Russia for the attack, which it says was carried out by smearing a Soviet-developed nerve agent known as Novichok on a door handle at Skripal's house in Salisbury, a message they reiterated at the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

"There is no plausible alternative explanation than Russian state responsibility for what happened in Salisbury," Karen Pierce, the U.K. ambassador to the UN, told council members in New York after a briefing from the high representative for disarmament affairs.

Pierce said it's Britain's view that only Russia had the technical capacity, operational experience and motive to target the Skripals.

Moscow has consistently denied involvement, accusing the West of smears aimed at undermining Russia's legitimacy.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday that Moscow received confidential information from the laboratory in Spiez, Switzerland, that analyzed samples from the site of the March 4 poisoning in Salisbury.

He said the analysis — done at the request of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) — indicated that samples contained BZ nerve agent and its precursor. He said BZ was part of the chemical arsenals of the U.S., Britain and other NATO countries, while the Soviet Union and Russia never developed the agent.

OPCW director-general Ahmet Uzumcu told a meeting Wednesday of the organization's executive council that a BZ precursor known as 3Q "was contained in the control sample prepared by the OPCW lab in accordance with the existing quality control procedures."

"It has nothing to do with the samples collected by the OPCW team in Salisbury," he said.

A forensic tent covers the bench where the Skripals were found. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

At the Security Council on Wednesday, Russia's ambassador to the UN once again disputed the British authorities' handling of the case.

Nebenzia also noted that the OPCW report did not specify where substance they found in Salisbury was made, saying there are many laboratories with the equipment needed to make a nerve agent.

'Violation of confidentiality'

Earlier, Britain's representative to the OPCW, Ambassador Peter Wilson, slammed the Russian foreign minister's comments as a breach of the treaty outlawing chemical weapons.

"The thing for me that was particularly alarming about Lavrov's statement is, first of all, the OPCW goes to enormous lengths to make sure that the identity of laboratories is confidential and, second of all, either the Russians are hacking the laboratories or they are making stuff up," he said. "Either way, that is a violation of the confidentiality of the Chemical Weapons Convention."

In a summary of its report last week, the OPCW did not name Novichok as the nerve agent used but it confirmed "the findings of the United Kingdom relating to the identity of the toxic chemical that was used in Salisbury."

Wilson told reporters the OPCW "confirmed that they found what we found, and that is a Novichok."

Russia's representative to the OPCW, Ambassador Alexander Shulgin, repeated Moscow's denials and accused Britain of a string of lies.

"For now, I will only say one thing: the claim that the technical secretariat confirmed that this chemical points to its Russian origin is an outright lie," he said in a statement posted on his embassy's website. "The report itself does not say a single word about the name Novichok; the CWC simply does not contain such a concept."

'Continually violated'

Wilson told the meeting that London continues to believe evidence points to Russian involvement in the attempted assassination.

"We believe that only Russia had the technical means, operational experience and motive to target the Skripals," Wilson said.

Wilson warned the Chemical Weapons Convention was being undermined by a growing use of nerve agents and other poisons, mentioning the 2017 assassination in Malaysia of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's estranged half brother, in addition to the Salisbury attack and the use of poison gas in Syria and Iraq.

"It is being continually violated," Wilson told reporters.

He said the convention would be strengthened if all nations fully declared any stockpiles they still have. Member states are supposed to declare all their chemical weapons stocks upon joining the OPCW and destroy them.

The OPCW and Russia last year celebrated the destruction of the country's final declared stocks.

"Russia clearly has chemical weapons they are not declaring and they need to do that," Wilson said.