By Robin Emmott and John Irish
BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) – Germany and France expressed solidarity with Britain on Tuesday after London accused Moscow of a nerve agent assault on British soil, however past robust vocal EU help, diplomats mentioned there was little urge for food for extra financial sanctions on Russia.
Regardless of tensions over Britain’s choice to give up the bloc subsequent yr, EU leaders, high officers and NATO reacted in fast succession after British Prime Minister Theresa Might’s speech within the British parliament on Monday on the poisoning of a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Might on Tuesday, a day after French President Emmanuel Macron, and each leaders condemned the assault in statements on Tuesday.
“(Merkel) mentioned it is as much as Russia to rapidly present solutions to the British authorities’s justified questions and to heed the decision to fully and instantly lay naked the related chemical weapons programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” mentioned Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert, referring to the watchdog in The Hague.
The case poses a check for post-Brexit safety cooperation as Russia, the EU’s greatest vitality provider, grows extra assertive overseas, accused of backing battle in Ukraine and meddling in U.S., French and German elections.
Condemnation from Paris and Berlin adopted a day of statements of help from EU officers.
The workplace of EU overseas coverage chief Federica Mogherini known as use of the Soviet-era nerve agent “surprising” and mentioned the European Union was “prepared to supply help if requested”. NATO Secretary-Basic Jens Stoltenberg mentioned it was “horrendous”.
European Fee deputy head Frans Timmermans known as on the bloc to precise “its full solidarity with the British individuals and the British authorities” and make a collective European effort to search out and punish these accountable.
However EU governments are divided on proceed. Whereas Merkel assured Might that she was taking the British authorities’s views on attainable Russian involvement extraordinarily severely, Macron declined to say Russia on Tuesday.
Macron has sought to construct a brand new relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and says he doesn’t imagine in megaphone diplomacy, though after virtually a yr in energy there’s nothing tangible to point out that the coverage has labored.
Britain has given Putin till midnight on Tuesday to clarify how the nerve agent was used to strike down Skripal, who had handed secrets and techniques to British intelligence.
If that deadline passes, Britain may ask EU governments to contemplate new asset freezes and journey bans on Russian officers not already beneath sanctions associated to Moscow’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea.
Britain may additionally name a particular assembly at NATO.
Subsequent Monday at a month-to-month assembly in Brussels, EU overseas ministers are resulting from focus on Russia’s presidential election on March 18, which Putin is anticipated to win simply, doubtlessly giving Britain’s International Secretary Boris Johnson an opportunity to enchantment to EU governments.
Might herself may straight focus on the problems with fellow leaders in Brussels at a two-day summit in Might, and Timmermans mentioned the difficulty must be on the agenda.
“We can not have nerve fuel being utilized in our societies. This must be addressed by all of us, and never simply left to Prime Minister Might and the British authorities,” Timmermans, who as Dutch overseas minister in 2014 accused Russia of downing an airliner flying from Amsterdam over Ukraine, informed the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
4 senior EU diplomats informed Reuters that Brussels would wait till Britain itself has taken a view on reply earlier than making any coverage strikes of its personal. They dismissed any suggestion that Brexit weakened London’s place.
“Brexit should not have any impact on this,” one mentioned.
However diplomats additionally mentioned further sanctions on Russia had been unlikely to win help as a result of attributing the nerve assault to Moscow was tough and likewise as a result of conserving present financial sanctions on Russia was already tough.
“Regardless of the seriousness of this incident, I simply do not see settlement (on new sanctions),” a second EU diplomat mentioned, predicting a powerful assertion of help as an alternative.
A 3rd diplomat mentioned that Britain and France had been unable to steer the remainder of the bloc to impose further sanctions on Russians over Moscow’s bombing marketing campaign in Syria.
Nations in search of nearer ties with Russia, notably Italy, Hungary and Greece, are cautious of additional damaging enterprise.
(Further reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Andreas Rinke and Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Modifying by Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones)