BRITISH Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday that Russia was "highly likely" responsible for the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.
In a strongly worded statement to the House of Commons that is likely to plunge UK-Russia relations to a new low, May said the "military grade" nerve agent used in the attack had been identified as Novichok, a substance developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.
May said the Russian ambassador has been summoned to the UK Foreign Office to explain whether the attack was "a direct action by the Russian state," or the result of the Russian government "losing control" of its stock nerve agents.
May demanded a response from the Russian government by the end of Tuesday. "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 said.
"Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so.
Russia's record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal," May said.
Poisoning of Russian spy raises troubling questions
"This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil."
Exactly how Britain might respond to evidence that implicated Moscow in the attack remains unclear. Possible options might include the expulsion of Russian diplomats and UK-based pro-Kremlin oligarchs, financial restrictions on figures linked to the Kremlin, and diplomatic efforts involving EU and US allies.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders described the episode as an outrage, calling it "reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible," though she refused to blame Russia for the attack.
"We stand with our ally and fully support them and are ready if we can be of any assistance to them," she added.