EU leaders point finger at Russia in nerve agent attack

In addition to formal statement, leaders agree to recall EU ambassador from Moscow for consultations.

EU leaders agreed late Thursday to recall their ambassador from Moscow for consultations following the European Council’s formal declaration that it was “highly likely” Russia was behind a recent nerve agent attack in the U.K., EU diplomats said.

In their formal summit conclusions, EU leaders said there was “no plausible alternative explanation” to Russia’s responsibility for the attempted assassination of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal.

The new wording is a victory for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. It marks a toughening of the EU’s position from earlier this week, which stated just that the bloc was taking “extremely seriously” Britain’s assessment that Russia was to blame. The tougher language signals that further measures against Moscow are likely to follow from European allies.

Speaking as she left the summit in the early hours of Friday morning, May said: “I welcome the fact that the EU Council agree with the U.K. government’s assessment that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attempted murder … This is about us standing together to uphold our values against the Russian threat.”

Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, remain hospitalized after being critically injured in the attack. The attempted assassination has so infuriated EU leaders that their discussion about Russia continued even after they reached agreement on the text of their formal conclusion.

In that subsequent discussion, which continued nearly until midnight, leaders of several EU countries said they would consider ejecting Russian diplomats or withdrawing their own national diplomats from Russia — as a clear sign of solidarity with the U.K.

Senior Russian diplomats have also suggested that Britain itself could be responsible for the attack.

May ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the nerve agent attack, after Russia scornfully brushed aside her demand for an explanation. May had given Moscow 24 hours to explain how the Soviet-made nerve agent, called Novichok, had come to be used in an attack on British soil.

Russia has vehemently denied any involvement in the attack, and accused the U.K. of violating international law by not providing the Russian government with samples of the nerve agent and full information about the ongoing investigation. Senior Russian diplomats have also suggested that Britain itself could be responsible for the attack.

Tass, the Russian news agency, in reporting the Council’s accusations, said that May had expelled the Russian diplomats “without showing any evidence.”

British officials have cited advanced laboratory analysis in asserting that the nerve agent used in the attack was part of a family of chemical weapons developed by the Soviet Union. The U.K. has also noted a pattern of previous state-directed assassinations by Russia in reaching its conclusion, and past threats against Skripal, who had been convicted and jailed for betraying Russia but was released as part of a spy exchange.

Jack Blanchard contributed to this report.

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