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LONDON: Britain and its allies on Thursday pointed the finger directly at Moscow over the poisoning of a Russian double agent, as the Kremlin vowed prompt retaliation against the “irresponsible” expulsion of its diplomats from London.

The escalating international scandal is unfolding as former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain in critical condition after exposure to the Soviet-designed chemical Novichok on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury.

British Prime Minister Theresa May promised a “united stance” as she visited the scene of the attack for the first time on Thursday, a day after saying Moscow was “culpable” and expelling 23 Russian diplomats among other measures.

In a rare joint statement, the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and the US condemned the attack as an “assault on UK sovereignty”.

“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,” the statement said.

The four leaders called on Russia to provide “full and complete disclosure” of the Soviet-era chemical programme that developed Novichok, the statement published by the British government said.

Russia did not meet London’s demand that it disclose details of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) by midnight on Tuesday, leading May to announce the retaliatory measures.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Britain’s position “absolutely irresponsible”.

He warned that retaliatory steps would soon follow and President Vladimir Putin would choose the option that “most suits Moscow’s interests”.

Russia would respond by kicking out British diplomats, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying in Moscow, adding that it would happen “soon”.

He said Moscow did not have a motive to attack Skripal but suggested other players could use the poisoning to “complicate holding the World Cup” in Russia this year and charged that the British government is keen to “deflect attention” from its troubles with Brexit.

May’s statements that Moscow is behind the poisoning are “completely crazy accusations against Russia, our entire country, our people, “foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists.

Moscow has mostly shrugged off the measures announced by May, ridiculing the decision not to send British ministers and royals to the World Cup.

Zakharova further accused Britain of refusing to grant access to Yulia Skripal or work with Moscow through the OPCW and give Russia access to the poisonous substance.

Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2018