The UK Security Minister Said Vladimir Putin Is Ultimately Responsible For The Salisbury Attack

    "Ultimately, of course he's responsible — he's the leader of the state," Ben Wallace said.

    Sputnik / Reuters

    The UK's security minister said Russian president Vladimir Putin is ultimately responsible for the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in March.

    Ben Wallace said that Putin's tight control over the state meant that the attack, which UK prosecutors announced on Wednesday was carried out by two officers from Moscow's GRU military intelligence service, would have been linked to his office.

    "Ultimately, of course he's responsible — he's the leader of the state," he said in an interview on the BBC's Today programme.

    "I don't think anyone can ever say that Mr Putin isn't in control of his state. He takes pride in surrounding himself by serving and former intelligence officers.

    "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."

    In laying the blame at Putin's door, his comments went a step beyond a statement made by prime minister Theresa May on Wednesday, in which she said that the attack "was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state."

    However, he stopped short of repeating an assertion made by Commons foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat, who said there was "no doubt [the attack] was state ordered".

    Wallace's comments come a day after the Crown Prosecution Service announced there is enough evidence to charge the two Russian nationals — named as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov — with conspiracy to murder and attempted murder over the incident on March 4.

    Authorities have obtained a European Arrest Warrant, meaning that the men will be arrested and face extradition if they travel to any EU member states.

    Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday afternoon that accusations of state involvement were "unacceptable", adding that "no one in the Russian leadership" played any part in the poisoning.

    He added that the Kremlin "has no reasons" to investigate the two men, claiming that the UK has not asked for legal assistance on the matter.

    Diplomats from both countries will confront one another when the UN Security Council meets to discuss the attack on Thursday.

    When asked how the UK plans to retaliate, Wallace said the government will "push back" against Russian "malign activity" in Britain.

    A government response to a foreign affairs committee report entitled "Moscow's Gold: Russian corruption in the UK", published today, made clear the government was "committed to countering the Russian state’s malign activity and protecting the UK and our interests from Russia-based threats", through the use of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, which received royal assent in May.

    Wallace added that the UK also plans to help combat such activity in allied countries, noting the support it has received from other Western nations in the aftermath of the Skripals' poisoning. The incident provoked an international diplomatic crisis in March, resulting in the expulsion of more than 150 diplomats on each side, including 60 from the US.

    However, in an anonymous opinion piece published in the New York Times on Wednesday, a senior official in the Trump administration revealed that the president had been "reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies" at the time.

    "He complained for weeks about senior staff members letting him get boxed into further confrontation with Russia, and he expressed frustration that the United States continued to impose sanctions on the country for its malign behavior," the op-ed read.

    "But his national security team knew better — such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable."

    Contact Hazel Shearing at hazel.shearing@buzzfeed.com.

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