US, allies back British charges of Russian intel officers in nerve agent attack

US, allies back British charges of Russian intel officers in nerve agent attack
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The Trump administration said Thursday that it has “full confidence” in the British government’s assessment that agents of Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, were responsible for the use of a nerve agent against an ex-Russian spy in Britain.

In a joint statement with France, Germany and Canada issued by the State Department on Thursday evening, the United States “welcomed the progress” made in the investigation of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in March and said the attempted assassination was “almost certainly approved at a senior government level” of the Kremlin. 

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The statement came one day after the U.K. charged two Russian men alleged to be active GRU officers, Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, with attempted murder and conspiracy to murder.

“This was not a rogue operation,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday, according to The New York Times. “It was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state.”

“We have full confidence in the British assessment that the two suspects were officers from the Russian military intelligence service, also known as the GRU, and that this operation was almost certainly approved at a senior government level,” the U.S., France, Germany and Canada said in Thursday's joint statement.

“We have already taken action together to disrupt the activities of the GRU through the largest ever collective expulsion of undeclared intelligence officers,” the statement read, noting that the announcement of the charges “further strengthens our intent to continue to disrupt together the hostile activities of foreign intelligence networks on our territories, uphold the prohibition of chemical weapons, protect our citizens and defend ourselves from all forms of malign state activity directed against us and our societies.”

The U.S. and other European allies backed Britain’s assessment that Russia was behind the March attack. Moscow has denied responsibility for the poisoning. 

In response to the attack and allegations against Moscow, the Trump administration expelled 60 Russian diplomats believed to be intelligence agents and closed a Russian diplomatic facility in Seattle. In early August, the administration announced that it was imposing a round of chemical and biological warfare sanctions on Moscow.

Thursday's statement also noted that an analysis by Britain revealed that the same nerve agent, Novichok, was used in the later poisoning of British citizens Dawn Sturgess and Charles Rowley in June. Sturgess later died, the Times reported.

The countries urged Moscow to “provide full disclosure” of the Novichok program to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW.