U.K. Government Believes Russia Was Probably Behind Poisoning Of Ex-Spy Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure to place sanctions on Russia, following the poisoning of a former Russian spy, who was living in exile in the western city of Salisbury.

U.K. Government Believes Russia Was Probably Behind Poisoning Of Ex-Spy

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The British government believes Russia was most probably behind the poisoning of a father and daughter last week. The father was a Russian exile and former Russian spy. Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to parliament today. And she said various signs point to Russia, including the nature of the poison and previous Russian threats against defectors.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: The government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

SHAPIRO: The Skripals were found slumped on a park bench in the western city of Salisbury. Both are still critically ill in the hospital. A local police officer who came to their aid is also hospitalized. For more on this story, NPR's Joanna Kakissis joins us from London. Hi, Joanna.


SHAPIRO: What prompted Theresa May to make this statement? And what else did the prime minister have to say about Russia?

KAKISSIS: So she's under a lot of pressure - from the British public, from her own party, from the press - to offer a really robust response here. There's been criticism over how the British government handled the response to the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko. You may remember him. He was a former Russian secret service officer who defected to the U.K. And he was poisoned by radioactive polonium. He died the slow agonizing death in 2006. So Theresa May said that Russians had threatened defectors in the past - that there's this pattern. And she said that circumstances and this history pointed to two explanations.


MAY: Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

SHAPIRO: Catastrophically damaging nerve agent - tell us more about this poison that was used.

KAKISSIS: So this is a military-grade nerve agent called Novichok. The Soviet Union produced it in the 1970s and the 1980s. It's pretty tough stuff.

SHAPIRO: And what have the Russians said in response to this?

KAKISSIS: So the Russians say they had nothing to do with what happened to the Skripals. They called May's statement today a circus show. And Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has summoned the Russian ambassador to his office to explain what happened with the Skripals. And he's expecting an answer tomorrow afternoon.

SHAPIRO: Did Theresa May indicate what the next moves will be by her government?

KAKISSIS: She wants an answer in 24 hours. And she says if she doesn't get a satisfactory answer, she is going to unveil a range of measures.


MAY: Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday, we will consider in detail the response from the Russian state. Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.


MAY: And I will come back to this house and set out the full range of measures that we will take in response.

KAKISSIS: We don't know what those range of measures will be. But she has said that this may be an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Joanna Kakissis speaking with us from London. Thanks, Joanna.

KAKISSIS: Thanks, Ari.


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