March 13, 2018 / 1:15 PM / 2 years ago

EU says will support UK in Russian spy case if requested

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union said on Tuesday that the attempted murder of a former Russian spy in Britain was “shocking” and that it was ready to support Britain if asked to do so.

The EU executive called on the bloc’s leaders to use a summit next week to show solidarity with British Prime Minister Theresa May and ensure a collective effort to punish those responsible.

Britain gave President Vladimir Putin until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to strike down a former Russian double agent who passed secrets to British intelligence.

A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in an emailed response that the use of a military-grade chemical agent in a murder attempt on UK soil, which threatened civilians, was “shocking”.

“We stand with the UK in pursuit of justice in this case and are ready to offer support if necessary.”

Separately, the deputy head of the European Commission told the European Parliament that the Union had a duty to stand by Britain and urged the other 27 national leaders to make that clear when they meet May at a regular Brussels summit next week at which Britain’s imminent exit from the EU is on the agenda.

“If nerve gas was actively used against civilians in one of our member states, I believe that the European Council should, in clear terms, express its full solidarity with the British people and the British government in addressing this issue,” said Timmermans, who as Dutch foreign minister accused Russia of downing an airliner flying from Amsterdam over Ukraine in 2014.

The Commission’s first vice president also said the EU must work together to punish those responsible, under the Chemical Weapons Convention overseen by the Hague-based OPCW agency.

“It is of the utmost importance that those who are responsible for what has happened see very clearly that there is European solidarity, unequivocal, unwavering and very strong, so that those responsible are really punished for what they did.

“We cannot have nerve gas being used in our societies. This should be addressed by all of us and not just left to Prime Minister May and the British government. It is a collective European responsibility, also under the OPCW rules.”

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Alastair Macdonald, editing by Robin Emmott

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