TOKYO: Russia’s foreign minister threatened on Wednesday to retaliate against Britain for “anti-Russian measures,” with the two countries at loggerheads over the poisoning of a spy in southern England.
Speaking after a meeting with Japanese counterpart Taro Kono, Sergei Lavrov said: “If the British government continues taking some anti-Russian measures, we will hit back under the principle of reciprocity.”
Lavrov urged the British government to “respond calmly” over the March 4 attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who remain in critical condition.
Britain says only Russia had the capability, motive and intent to be behind the attack, which used the nerve agent Novichok reportedly developed by the former Soviet Union.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed this as “nonsense.”
Britain reacted by expelling 23 Russian diplomats and their families—around 80 people in total—and has also cut off high-level contacts.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said London was “actively considering” other measures.
On Tuesday, the head of the OPCW chemical watchdog said it would take two to three weeks to complete laboratory analysis of samples taken from the poisoning.
The affair has further damaged Russia’s already shaky relations with many Western countries.
The EU has expressed its solidarity with Britain and leaders at a summit later this week will agree to “coordinate on the consequences” for Russia, according to a draft statement seen by Agence France-Presse.
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis suggested on Tuesday that Moscow’s suspected involvement shows Russia has “chosen to be a strategic competitor.”
However, President Donald Trump skipped the issue when congratulating Putin on his re-election and proposed a summit in the “not-too-distant future.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe voiced “outrage” over the attack in a call to May, according to her office.
Skripal, 66, a former Russian officer who sold secrets to Britain and moved there in a 2010 spy swap, remains in a coma along with his 33-year-old daughter after they were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury.
Turning to bilateral issues, Lavrov voiced concern over Japan’s plan to introduce a US land-based Aegis missile defense system, which he said would “directly” affect Russian security.
“We have already handed in a list of Russian concerns to the Japanese side and proposed to set up a special channel of dialogue on this issue,” said Lavrov.
Kono responded that the missile defense system was “purely a defensive one managed by our country independently.”
“It will not be a threat to our neighbor countries, including Russia,” stressed the minister.
The British ambassador will snub a meeting that the Russia foreign ministry called to explain Moscow’s view on the poisoning of an ex-double agent in England, the embassy said Wednesday.
“The ambassador will not be attending the meeting,” Zeenat Khanche, spokeswoman for the British embassy in Moscow, said.
Instead, the diplomatic mission considered sending to the meeting an official at the “working level,” added Khanche, declining to provide further details.
The head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Russia will also not attend because “he is not the country,” its spokeswoman, Luca Eszter Kadar, told Agence France-Presse.
Instead, his deputy, Sven-Olov Carlsson, will attend the gathering, she said.
On Tuesday, Moscow had invited all ambassadors to Russia to a meeting with foreign ministry experts to hear Russia’s views on the poisoning of a former double agent in England.
Vladimir Yermakov, director of the ministry’s non-proliferation and arms control department, will brief foreign embassy representatives at 1200 GMT Wednesday, an official said.