March 31, 2018
Announcement regarding daughter of poisoned spy comes amid row over search of Russian aircraft by British authorities
Foreign Office considers Russian consular access to Yulia Skripal
The Foreign Office has said it is considering Russia’s request for consular access to Yulia Skripal as a fresh row develops over why British authorities searched a Russian aircraft travelling from Moscow to London on Friday.
Russia’s transport ministry said it would demand an official explanation from the UK government for why a Russian Aeroflot passenger plane was searched by authorities at Heathrow on Friday, and threatened “similar actions” against British Airways planes in Russia.
The news comes as the FCO considers Russia’s request for consular access to Yulia Skripal, the daughter of Russian double agent Sergei Skripal, who is no longer in a critical condition after she was poisoned with a nerve agent along with her father in Salisbury earlier this month.
In a statement late on Friday, the Russian embassy in London described the search of Aeroflot flights 2582 and 2583 as “another blatant provocation” by UK authorities. It added that it had sent a diplomatic note asking for an explanation of the incident.
The embassy said British officials wanted to search the plane without the Russian crew present, but were prevented from doing so after an embassy official arrived at the airport. The statement said that “long negotiations were conducted” to ensure the right of the captain to take part in the search.
“At this moment, we have no other explanation but that the incident at Heathrow is in one way or another connected with the hostile policy that the UK government is conducting with regard to Russia,” the statement continued. Both Aeroflot and BA fly the London-Moscow route several times a day.
The Metropolitan police, which is co-ordinating the investigation into the poisoning of Yulia and Sergei Skripal, denied it was part of the aircraft search.
The UK security minister, Ben Wallace, said: “It is routine for Border Force to search aircraft to protect the UK from organised crime and from those who attempt to bring harmful substances like drugs or firearms into the country.
“Once these checks were carried out, the plane was allowed to carry on with its onward journey.”
The row comes as the FCO said the “rights and wishes of Yulia” would be taken into account when considering Russia’s request for access to the daughter of the poisoned spy.
She spent three weeks in a critical condition in hospital after both father and daughter were exposed to the nerve agent novichok earlier this month. But on Thursday, doctors announced that the 33-year-old’s condition was improving rapidly, prompting Russia’s request for access. Her father, Sergei Skripal, 66, remains in a critical condition.
An FCO spokeswoman told the Guardian: “We are considering requests for consular access in line with our obligations under international and domestic law, including the rights and wishes of Yulia Skripal.”
On Friday, Russia announced further sanctions against Britain, once again escalating the fallout of the Skripal attack.
The foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said new measures, which require the staffing levels of the three British diplomatic missions in Russia to be reduced to the same level as Russian missions in Britain, would effectively mean that just over 50 UK embassy staff would have to leave. It was not immediately clear if this meant 50 diplomats or 50 embassy employees, including local staff.
Zakharova said Moscow had responded in kind to Britain’s initial expulsions, with both sides ordering 23 diplomats out. She said the latest round of Russian expulsions was punishment for the fact that “London carried out a campaign to have Russian diplomats expelled from EU countries and a number of other countries”.
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