Russia has claimed at the UN security council that it never made or even researched novichok nerve agents, which the UK says were used in the Salisbury attack on a former Russia spy and his daughter.
However, the UK received overwhelming support from its allies on the council, including the US, amid heated debate on Wednesday night. Washington’s envoy, Nikki Haley, delivered the most unambiguous statement of support from the Trump administration so far.
In her statement on behalf of the US, Haley said: “Let me make one thing clear from the very beginning: the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain. The United States believes that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military-grade nerve agent.”
Presenting the UK case to the UN security council on Wednesday, Britain’s deputy permanent representative, Jonathan Allen, said Russia was “in serious breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention through its failure to declare the novichok programme”.
“This fact alone means you should discount any arguments you hear about the possibility of other countries having inherited this technology,” he said.
“This was no common crime. It was an unlawful use of force, a violation of … the United Nations charter, the basis of the international legal order,” Allen said.
Amid heated debate, the Russian envoy, Vissaly Nebenzia, rejected UK accusations of responsibility and suggested that the British government might have carried out the attack itself in an effort to “tarnish” Russia ahead of the football World Cup this summer. “No scientific research or development under the title novichok were carried out,” he said. He alleged the Salisbury attack was a false-flag attack, possibly by the UK itself, intended to harm Russia’s reputation. “Most probable source of this agent are the countries who have carried out research on these weapons, including Britain,” Nebenzia said.
But Haley, the US ambassador, said: “This is a defining moment. Time and time again, member states say they oppose the use of chemical weapons under any circumstance. Now, one member stands accused of using chemical weapons on the sovereign soil of another member. The credibility of this council will not survive if we fail to hold Russia accountable.”
The Russian ambassador sought to turn the tables on the UK, claiming that Theresa May’s letter to the UN, outlining UK grounds for accusing Russia, was itself a “threat to a sovereign state”.
“The letter contains completely irresponsible statements which are even difficult for me to comment on using diplomatic vocabulary,” the Russian envoy said. He later told reporters that the case belonged at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague. “We are ready to cooperate,” he said.
Allen pointed out that the UK had already called in the OPCW to take part in the investigation. He described extensive evidence that novichok nerve agents had been developed by the Soviet Union and bequeathed to Russia.
The French ambassador, François Delattre, made a similar declaration backing the UK position, offering “the full support and complete solidarity of France for the UK”.
“We have reached a new stage: the use of a substance never declared to the OPCW used in a public area in the territory of a European country,” DeLattre said.