Ben Wallace says Russian president has ultimate power over military intelligence actions
The security minister Ben Wallace has said that the Russian president Vladimir Putin is ultimately responsible for the deadly Salisbury nerve agent attack as a result of his firm grip on the Russian state.
His remarks are the furthest the British government has gone yet in attributing direct blame on Putin for the attempt by two Russian military intelligence officers to murder Sergei and Yulia Skripal with the military grade nerve agent in March.
Britain will seek to intensify diplomatic pressure on the Kremlin by laying out the case against Moscow at the United Nations security council, of which Russia is a member, on Thursday.
Theresa May did not explicitly blame Putin for authorising the attempted assassination, which resulted in the death of a British woman, when she addressed the Commons in a special statement on Monday, although she pointed the finger at the Kremlin.
The prime minister did, however, reveal the two suspects who flew into Britain with the novichok were officers in the GRU, Russian military intelligence, as police laid out a compelling trail showing how the suspects travelled from Moscow to London and then on to Salisbury, featuring numerous CCTV images and supporting detail.
Wallace told BBC Radio 4, however, that it was clear Putin held responsibility. He said: Ultimately he does, in so far as he is the president of the Russian Federation and it is his government which controls funds and directs the military intelligence, the GRU, via his ministry of defence. I dont think anyone can ever say that Mr Putin isnt in control of his state.
He added: The GRU is without doubt not rogue. It is led, linked to both the senior members of the Russian general staff and the defence minister and, through that, to the Kremlin and the presidents office. Of course hes responsible, hes leader of the state.
Senior Conservatives have already directly accused Putin of approving the operation.
The Commons foreign affairs committee chairman, Tom Tugendhat, said there was “no doubt it was state ordered and that Putin bore responsibility for a war-like act.
In the Commons on Tuesday, May told MPs: The GRU is a highly disciplined organisation with a well-established chain of command. So this was not a rogue operation. It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state. But she rejected the invitation to name Putin directly.
UK officials will come face to face with their Russian counterparts for the first time since the statement as they brief the UN security council on the two men suspected of the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
There is also likely to be less visible activity including covert work by British intelligence to try to disrupt the activities of the Russian military intelligence agency, including in cyberspace.
Wallace, however, insisted that any UK retaliation would be in our way within the rule of law rather than thuggish, destructive and aggressive tactics he said had been adopted by the Russians. “We choose to challenge the Russians in both the overt and the covert space, within the rule of law and in a sophisticated way, he said.
He claimed that the British were making significant progress in the fight against illicit Russian money coming into the UK. The government will also push for the EU to agree new sanctions against Russia.
Ahead of the UN meeting, Australia, a close security partner, said it was in lock step with the UK on the importance of holding Russia to account over the dangerous and deliberate attack.
If you enjoyed our content, we'd really appreciate some "love" with a share or two.
And ... Don't forget to have fun!