NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement Moscow's behaviour is "destabilising and dangerous," while allies in the West condemned the nerve agent attack and called on Russia to "address all questions" related to the issue.

A man takes flag off the flagpole outside the consular section of Russia's Embassy in London, Britain, on March 14, 2018.
A man takes flag off the flagpole outside the consular section of Russia's Embassy in London, Britain, on March 14, 2018. (Reuters)

NATO accused Russia on Thursday of trying to destabilise the West with new nuclear weapons, cyberattacks and covert action, including the poisoning of a Russian former double agent in Britain, that blurred the line between peace and war.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the use of the Novichok nerve agent against Sergei Skripal and his daughter "happened against a backdrop of a reckless pattern of Russian behaviour over many years".

Stoltenberg, who will meet British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday in Brussels, said Russia was mixing nuclear and conventional weapons in military doctrine and exercises, which lowered the threshold for launching nuclear attacks and increasingly deploying "hybrid tactics" such as soldiers without insignia.

He also accused Moscow of "blurring of the line between peace, crisis and war," which he said was "destabilising and dangerous".

Novichok – or "newcomer" in English – refers to a group of powerful and deadly chemical compounds reportedly developed by the Soviet government in the 1970s and 1980s, some of which were adopted by the Soviet army in 1990.

TRT World's Sarah Morice has the latest.

West allies condemn the attack

Britain, France, Germany and the United States condemned the nerve agent attack, saying there was "no plausible alternative explanation" to Moscow's involvement.

"We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal" in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, said the rare joint statement issued by the British government.

"We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility." 

"We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury," the four world powers said in their statement. 

"Russia should in particular provide full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons."

The poisoning amounts to "a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all," the US and European leaders said.

'Insane accusations'

A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman on Thursday described allegations by British Prime Minister Theresa May that Russia was to blame for the nerve agent poisoning as insane.

The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, also said Moscow was still working on retaliatory measures against Britain for London's decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats over the poisoning, which left Skripal and his daughter critically ill.

Her comments followed a statement by British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday during which May said London would kick out the Russian diplomats in the biggest such expulsion since the Cold War.

At a routine briefing, Zakharova told reporters she wanted to comment on "the statements made by the prime minister of Britain in parliament with completely insane accusations towards the Russian Federation, our entire country, our entire people."

"In connection with the introduction by Britain of unfriendly steps towards Russia, we plan to introduce reciprocal steps, without doubt ... They are currently being worked on and will be adopted in the near future," Zakharova said.

She accused Britain of refusing to cooperate with Moscow in the investigation of the incident.

"We are extremely concerned by what happened a few days ago on British territory, we view with great concern all information we are receiving about the use of chemical weapons on British territory," Zakharova told the briefing.

"Britain is refusing to provide any factual information on this case. There is no mention about, for example, providing Russia with samples of the substance that was found at the crime scene," she added.

"I can confirm again, Britain has not provided to Russia any information, any details that might shed some light on the situation," Zakharova said.

For more, TRT World 's Simon McGregor-Wood is in Moscow.

UK may target Putin-linked businessmen

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson suggested on Thursday that corrupt Russians who owe their wealth to their ties with President Vladimir Putin could be targeted by British police in retaliation for a nerve attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

The foreign ministry there said on Thursday morning it was still working on its response to the British measures, labelling London's accusations against the Russian state "insane."

At home, the British government has been under pressure from lawmakers and media to show it was getting tough on Russia, with some experts saying that despite the rhetoric, the response did not go far enough to bother Putin.

Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson defended the measures announced on Wednesday and suggested that there could be further consequences for rich Russians with assets in Britain.

"What people want to see is some of the very rich people who are directly associated with Vladimir Putin ... whose wealth can be attributed to their relationship with Vladimir Putin, it may be that the law agencies, that the police will be able to put unexplained wealth orders on them, to bring them to justice for their acts of gross corruption," Johnson told BBC television.

In a later interview with BBC radio, he said Britain's National Crime Agency and Economic Crimes Unit were investigating a wide range of individuals, but declined to give names or details citing legal reasons.

Johnson said he had been heartened by strong expressions of support from the United States and other allies – although it remains unclear whether there will be a coordinated international response to the Novichok attack.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Wednesday that her country believed Russia was responsible for the attack, adding it was a crime worthy of UN Security Council action.

TRT World's Harry Horton has more on the US stance from Washington.

RT warns British media in Russia

The head of Russian state-funded RT television says British Prime Minister Theresa May is to blame if British media are kicked out of Russia over the diplomatic spat between London and Moscow.

RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan dismissed accusations that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal. It prompted threats to shut down RT's British operations, among other actions targeting Moscow.

Simonyan told AP in Moscow that "if we are censored in the UK, that's going to be it for the British media" in Russia.

She said it would be strange for Russia to be so "reckless and stupid" as to poison Skripal "knowing what outrage it would cause."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies