Vladimir Putin has denied responsibility for the Novichok nerve agent attacks in Salisbury and Amesbury.
Theresa May told MPs on Wednesday that the attack against the Skripals and the fatal poisoning of Dawn Sturgess was carried out by two Russian spies and sanctioned at a ‘senior level’ in the Russian state.
Security Minister Ben Wallace went one step further this morning, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today that the buck stopped at Putin.
A Kremlin spokesman responded, saying: “We again say that neither the upper leadership, nor the leadership a rank lower or any official representatives had or have anything to do with the events in Salisbury.
“Any suggestions of this kind or accusations, I repeat, are unacceptable.”
Leaders of the UK’s allies have backed Theresa May’s claim that the suspects are Russian spies.
US President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau issued a joint statement with Mrs May agreeing with the British assessment that the operation was “almost certainly approved at a senior government level” in Moscow.
The two men alleged to have been behind the March nerve agent poisoning – Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov – were identified by the UK this week as members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.
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The PM told the Commons that the UK would push for new sanctions against Russians responsible for cyber attacks, additional listings under the existing regime and promised to work with intelligence allies to ‘counter the threat posed by the GRU’.
Mr Wallace said the UK would ‘use whatever means we have within the law and our capabilities’ to ‘push back the Russian malign activity’.
Asked whether there would be retaliation for Russia’s activities, particularly in cyber space, Mr Wallace said: “We do all the time, but we retaliate in our way.
“We are not the Russians, we don’t adopt the sort of thuggish, destructive and aggressive behaviour that we have seen.
“We choose to challenge the Russians in both the overt and the covert space, within the rule of law and in a sophisticated way.”
British and Russian officials will come face-to-face as the UN Security Council discusses the attack in New York.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia will be represented at Thursday’s meeting – and called on by Britain to update members on progress in the Salisbury investigation – alongside UK allies such as the US and France.
Mrs May has been in contact with US President Donald Trump and other leaders as she attempts to build an international alliance in support of her stance.
Australia on Thursday said it was in ‘lock step’ with the UK on the importance of holding Russia to account over the ‘heinous’ attack, although it is not currently a council member.
Former GRU officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were left critically ill after being exposed to the military grade nerve agent Novichok in March.
The alleged perpetrators were identified in a dramatic joint police and Crown Prosecution Service press conference.
Detectives believe it is likely the pair, thought to be aged around 40, travelled under aliases and that Petrov and Boshirov are not their real names.
Prosecutors deem it futile to apply to Russia for the extradition of the two men, but a European Arrest Warrant has been obtained and the authorities are also seeking the assistance of Interpol.
Detectives believe the front door of Mr Skripal’s Salisbury home was contaminated with Novichok on March 4.
Mr Skripal, 67, and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury city centre the same day and spent weeks critically ill in hospital.
Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu also confirmed officers have now linked the attack on the Skripals to events in nearby Amesbury four months later.
In the second incident, Dawn Sturgess, 44, and her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, were exposed to the same nerve agent used in Salisbury.
Ms Sturgess died in hospital in July, just over a week after the pair fell ill.
In a statement, the Russian Embassy in the UK accused the British authorities of being unwilling to engage with them and called on the Government to ‘give up politicised public accusations’.