Boris Johnson says attack on ex-Russian spy 'a sign from Putin' to tell defectors no one escapes Moscow's revenge

London: The nerve agent attack on a former KGB spy in the UK was "a sign" from President Putin that "no one could escape the long arm of Russian revenge", British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Wednesday.

Sergei Skripal, a former Russian officer who sold secrets to Britain and moved to the country in a 2010 spy swap, remains in a coma along with his daughter after they were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury city.

Johnson told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Russia wanted defectors to know what would happen to them if they supported another country.

He also claimed they chose the UK for the attack because it has "called out" Russian abuses "time and again".

File image of Boris Johnson. AP

File image of Boris Johnson. AP

Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were exposed to an "unknown substance" while out in Salisbury on 5 March .

Johnson told the committee: "[The attack] was a sign that President Putin or the Russian state wanted to give to potential defectors in their own agencies: 'This is what happens to you if you decide to support a country with a different set of values, such as our own. You can expect to be assassinated'."

He repeated comments from fellow Conservative MP, Ken Clarke, who described the use of the nerve agent Novichok as a "Russian signature on the deed".

"By using a specific type of nerve agent known to be developed in Russia, it was a sign that no former Russian agent was immune and no-one could escape the long arm of Russian revenge," the BBC quoted the foreign secretary as saying.

He also claimed the UK was chosen for the attack because of its "particular set of values".

Johnson said the UK believes "in freedom and in democracy, and in the rule of law, and has time and again called out Russia over its abuses of those values.

"It is Britain that has been most forthright and most obstinate in sticking up for our values and I think that is the reason it was decided to make that gesture in this country."

However, he said the overall aim of improving relations with Russia - as discussed during his trip to Moscow in December 2017 - remained "effectively unchanged".

Johnson said: "No one can say that we haven't been trying. That was the reason for going to Moscow, to show we are willing to engage.

"Things are going to be very difficult politically for a whole time to come, but that doesn't mean all contact must be stopped or engagement stopped."

He claimed the UK had "many admirers among the Russian people" and the UK wanted to "hold out the hand of friendship" to them, as the quarrel was with the Kremlin, not the citizens.

Britain says only Russia had the capability to be behind the attack, which used the nerve agent Novichok reportedly developed by the former Soviet Union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed the British accusations as "nonsense".

Britain reacted by expelling 23 Russian diplomats and their families and has also cut off high-level contacts. In a tit-for-tat move, Moscow also expelled 23 British diplomats.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2018 21:31:48 IST

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