Moscow warns I$raHell of ‘anti-Russian hysteria’ over spy’s poisoning



TIMES OF ISRAEL – Russia on Friday told Israel not to be drawn into “a renewed anti-Russian hysteria” campaign after Jerusalem condemned the poisoning of a double agent in England that the UK and its Western allies have blamed on Moscow.

“The Embassy notes with concern attempts undertaken by the government of the United Kingdom and supported by some other foreign nations and a number of media outlets, to draw Israel into [a] political and propagandistic campaign, which was unleashed by London under the false pretext of Russia’s alleged involvement in the poisoning of Sergey and Yulia Skripal,” the Russian embassy in Israel said.

It said “such actions constitute an unprecedented, flagrant provocation that undermines foundations of normal dialogue between countries” and seriously challenges the international rules-based system.”

The statement came after the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Thursday condemned “the event that occurred in Great Britain but made no mention of Russia. “Israel views with gravity the event that occurred in Great Britain and condemns it vigorously,” the Foreign Ministry said. “We hope that the international community will cooperate in order to avoid such further events.”

On March 4, Skripal, once a Russian double agent, along with his daughter Yulia, and a British police officer, were poisoned with a rare and powerful nerve agent. Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition, while the police officer is in serious condition.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering a nerve agent attack in Britain, ratcheting up tensions Friday in an increasingly global showdown over alleged Russian meddling abroad.

Johnson said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Putin himself ordered the attack.

“Our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision, and we think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision, to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War,” Johnson said.

Russia ordered a halt to high-level meetings with the UK and prepared Friday to expel British diplomats in retaliation for similar British moves — but still hasn’t said who will be kicked out or when.

Britain is expelling 23 Russian diplomats and taking other steps against Russian interests as the two nations’ relations sink to a post-Cold War low.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian news agencies as calling Johnson’s statement a “shocking and inexcusable breach of diplomatic propriety.” Peskov reiterated Russian denials of involvement in the attack that has left both Skripals in critical condition.

“We have never encountered this level of discussion on the global stage,” Peskov told reporters.

The source of the nerve agent used — which Britain says is the Soviet-made Novichok — is unclear, as is the way it was administered.

Russia denies being the source of the poison, suggesting it could have been another country, and has demanded that Britain share samples collected by investigators.

Separately, Israel’s Ynet news site reported Friday that Anatoly Kuntsevich, a former Russian general considered to have been the head of the Soviet Union’s Novichok development program, was once closely monitored by Israeli intelligence.

According to the report, Kuntsevich — who became Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s adviser for eliminating chemical weapons — began assisting Syria in the 1990s with establishing an advanced chemical weapons program, providing know-how and equipment in exchange for large sums of money.

Kuntsevich’s activities in Syria eventually became known to the Mossad, which raised concern in Israel and prompted then-prime minister Ehud Barak to alert Moscow to Kuntsevich’s efforts, which the report said were likely at his own initiative.

Kuntsevich, who died in 2002 mysteriously on a flight from Syria’s Aleppo to Moscow, had even brought instructions for producing Novichok during his last trip to Syria, according to a top-secret CIA document from the time cited by the report, although Syria’s development of advanced chemical weapons was likely hampered by his death.

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