Britain’s security minister said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin bears ultimate responsibility for the nerve agent attack targeting a former spy in England, also warning that the U.K. would counter Russian “malign activity” with both overt and covert measures.
Ben Wallace said Putin, along with his government, “controls, funds and directs” the military intelligence unit known as the GRU, which Britain believes used Novichok to try to kill ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal.
Skripal and his daughter Yulia were hospitalized for weeks in critical condition after they were exposed to the Soviet-developed nerve agent in the city of Salisbury on March 4. They are recovering in a secret location for their own protection.
In the nearby town of Amesbury, local woman Dawn Sturgess died and her boyfriend Charlie Rowley was sickened after they came across remnants of the poison in June.
Britain on Wednesday announced charges in absentia against two alleged Russian agents, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — names that are likely aliases. Prime Minister Theresa May said the murder attempt had been approved “at a senior level of the Russian state.”
Moscow strongly denies involvement in the attack, and Russian officials said they didn’t recognize the suspects.
Britain plans to press its case against Russia at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday.
The Skripals’ poisoning ignited a diplomatic confrontation in which hundreds of envoys were expelled by both Russia and Western nations. But there is limited appetite among Britain’s European allies for further sanctions against Moscow.
Wallace told the BBC that Britain would “push back the Russian malign activity” with “whatever means we have within the law and our capabilities.”
He said Britain would “challenge the Russians in both the overt and the covert space, within the rule of law and in a sophisticated way.”