Russian spy assault: Johnson greets allies’ subsistence

Foreign secretarys remarks precede Trump sacking of Tillerson, who had criticised Moscow

The UK has been encouraged by the “strength of support” from allies to take action against Russia after the nerve agent attack on a former snoop and his daughter, Boris Johnson said just hours before the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, was sacked by Donald Trump.

Tillerson, who spoke to the foreign secretary on Monday afternoon, had told reporters the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal” clearly came from Russia” and would have consequences.

His remarks ran further than those of Theresa May, who told the House of Commons on Monday it was ” highly likely” Russia was behind the attack. The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, had stopped short of pointing the finger at Russia.

Just hours after Johnson had welcomed US support, Trump tweeted that he had replaced Tillerson with the CIA director, Mike Pompeo. The sacking may not be linked to Tillerson’s comments on Russia; closer relations between the pair are believed to have been deteriorating for some time, especially over the Iran nuclear deal and Trump’s announcement that he would meet the Northern korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

It is unclear when Tillerson learned that his dismissal was imminent. It was first reported he had known since Friday, which was denied by sources, and a state department spokesman afterward said Tillerson” did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason” and later indicated he had read the news on Twitter.

The US president said he would speak to the British “ministers ” about the Salisbury poisoning on Tuesday.

Trump said:” It voices to me like they believe it was Russia … I would certainly take that finding as fact .” But he added:” If we get the facts straight we will condemn Russia, or whoever it might be .”

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Downing Street is hoping for a strong statement of support from Trump when he speaks with May on Tuesday, having previously been encouraged by such direct censure from Tillerson.

Skripal and his daughter remain in hospital in a critical condition while the Wiltshire police detective sergeant Nick Bailey is in a serious but stable condition.

Bailey is making good progress, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism police officer told. Delivering an update on the police investigation outside New Scotland Yard on Tuesday, the Metropolitan police deputy assistant commissioner, Neil Basu, told 38 people were ensure by medical staff in the aftermath of the” reckless, despicable and targeted” attack.

Of those, 34 have been assessed and discharged and one more person is still being monitored as an outpatient but is not showing signs of illness. Previously, police had said 21 people had been affected.

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Theresa May: highly likely Russia is behind Salisbury spy attack- video

In an interview earlier on Tuesday, Johnson recurred May’s ultimatum to the Kremlin that it must explain by midnight on Tuesday if it was behind the attack, or if it had allowed the deadly nerve agent novichok to get into the incorrect hands.

” If they can come up with a convincing rationale, then plainly we will want to see full disclosure of that to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague ,” Johnson said.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Russia had requested access to the substance to perform its own checks but any such requests had been refused. May’s spokesman hit back at Lavrov’s suggestion that Britain could be contravening the chemical weapons convention.

” The UK fully complies with all of its obligations for the purposes of the chemical weapons convention ,” the spokesman told.” Under the chemical weapons convention, countries have the mechanism to consult but there is no requirement to do so .”

Quick guide

What is novichok?

Novichok refers to a group of nerve agents that were developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970 s and 1980 s to elude international restrictions on chemical weapons. Like other nerve agents, the objective is organophosphate compounds, but the chemicals are applied to make them, and their final structures are considered classified in the UK, the US and other countries. By constructing the agents in secret, from unfamiliar chemicals, the Soviet Union is also intended to fabricate the substances without being impeded.

” Much less is known about the novichoks than the other nerve agents ,” told Alastair Hay, an environmental toxicologist at the University of Leeds who analyse the use of chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurds in Halabja in 1988.” They are not widely used at all .”

The most potent of the novichok substances are considered to be more lethal than VX, the most deadly of the familiar nerve agents, which include sarin, tabun and soman.

And while the novichok agents work in a similar way, by massively over-stimulating muscles and glands, one chemical weapons expert told the Guardian that the agents do not degrade fast in the environment and have “an additional toxicity”. ” That extra toxicity is not well understood, so I understand why people were asked to clean their clothes, even if it was present only in traces ,” he told. Treatment for novichok exposure would be the same as for other nerve agents, namely with atropine, diazepam and potentially drugs called oximes.

The chemical structures of novichok agents were made public in 2008 by Vil Mirzayanov, a former Russian scientist living in the US, but the structures have never been publicly confirmed. It is thought that they can be made in different forms, including a dust aerosol that would be easy to disperse.

The novichoks are known as binary agents because they become lethal merely after mixing two otherwise harmless components. According to Mirzayanov, the objective is 10 to 100 times more toxic than the conventional nerve agents.

The fact that so little is known about them may explain why Porton Down scientists took several days to identify the compound used in the attack against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. While laboratories around the world that are used to police chemical weapons incidents have databases of nerve agents, few outside Russia are believed to have full details of the novichok compounds and the chemicals needed to stimulate them.

Photograph: Matt Cardy/ Getty Images Europe

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