Several foreign leaders have backed Theresa May’s claim that the suspects in the Salisbury nerve agent attack are Russian agents.
President Donald Trump, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau issued a joint statement with Mrs May agreeing with the British assessment that the operation was “almost certainly approved at a senior government level” in Moscow.
The two men alleged to have been behind the March nerve agent poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal – Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – are thought to be members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.
The leaders said: “We have full confidence in the British assessment that the two suspects were officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU, and that this operation was almost certainly approved at a senior government level.“
The statement added that the announcement about the suspects “further strengthens our intent to continue to disrupt together the hostile activities of foreign intelligence networks on our territories, uphold the prohibition of chemical weapons, protect our citizens and defend ourselves from all forms of malign state activity directed against us and our societies.”
Mrs May has spoken to all four of her fellow leaders in recent days to update them about the investigation. Her comments came as the war of words with Vladimir Putin’s government escalated following the explosive claim of GRU involvement.
Security Minister Ben Wallace said Mr Putin bore ultimate responsibility for the action of his intelligence agents. He said Mr Putin had a strong grip over his state, which “controls, funds and directs” the GRU.
Mr Wallace told the BBC: “The GRU is, without doubt, not rogue, it is led, linked, to both the senior members of the Russian general staff and the defence minister and, through that, into the Kremlin and the president’s office.”
He said the UK would “use whatever means we have within the law and our capabilities” to “push back the Russian malign activity”.
Mrs May’s official spokesman said that the Prime Minister was pleased to receive such a rapid and united response from allies.
He added: “We got a swift response in March and we have done so again and we are thankful for that support.”
Detectives believe it is likely that the two suspects, thought to be aged around 40, travelled under aliases and that Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names.