BLOG

Earlier today we reported that the world got that much closer to a second Cold War after Russia said it would expel UK diplomats in retaliation to Theresa May's decision to kick out 23 Russians, while expanding its "blacklist" of US citizens in response to yesterday's Treasury sanctions. That's when things turned south fast because roughly at that time, the U.K.’s top diploma, Boris Johnson, directly accused Vladimir Putin, saying it was “overwhelmingly likelythat he personally ordered the nerve-agent attack on British soil.

In a dramatic escalation of a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, the Foreign Secretary said the U.K.’s problem was not with the Russian people but with the Russian leader.

"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 U.K., on the streets of Europe, for the first time since World War II,” Johnson said in London.

Predictably, the Kremlin was furious, said that blaming Putin personally for Skripal's poisoning is “shocking and unforgivable."

Speaking to Interfax, Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that “We have said on different levels and occasions that Russia has nothing to do with this story" and added that "any references to our president is nothing but shocking and unforgivable diplomatic misconduct."

Johnson's statement was a “diplomatic blunder” on the part of the UK foreign secretary, Peskov said, adding that the Kremlin remains "puzzled" by the conduct of the British authorities during the Skripal crisis.

The diplomatic tension increased further Friday afternoon when London’s Metropolitan Police said it is treating as murder the death of Nikolai Glushkov, a close associate of Putin opponent Boris Berezovsky -- a one-time billionaire who was himself found hanging dead in 2013 in his house outside London.

The Kremlin's press secretary also expressed belief that "sooner or later the British side would have to present some kind of comprehensive evidence of Russia’s involvement, at least, to their partners France, the US, Germany, who declared solidarity with London in this situation.” Moscow earlier asked the UK to provide materials in the Skripal case, but received a negative answer.

Johnson’s claims of Putin’s personal involvement weren’t the only example of over-the-top rhetoric by UK officials during the Skripal crisis. UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Thursday that Russia “should go away and shut up” when asked about Moscow’s possible response to British sanctions.

In response, Russia’s Defence Ministry said Williamson was an “intellectual impotent” and Lavrov said he probably lacked education. “Well he’s a nice man, I’m told, maybe he wants to claim a place in history by making some bold statements,” Lavrov said. “Theresa May’s main argument about Russia’s guilt is ‘Highly probable’, while for him it’s ‘Russia should go and shut up’. Maybe he lacks education, I don’t know.”

* * *

The diplomatic tension spiked further on Friday afternoon when London’s Metropolitan Police said it is treating as murder the death of Nikolai Glushkov, the close associate of Putin opponent Boris Berezovsky - a one-time billionaire who was himself found hanging dead in 2013 in his house outside London, according to Bloomberg.

Glushkov, 68, was found dead at his home in the southwest of the U.K. capital on March 12. An autopsy showed he died from “compression to the neck,” the police said in a statement, adding that there was no evidence he had been poisoned or to link his death to the attack on the Skripals.

“The Met Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, which has led the investigation from the outset, is now treating Mr. Glushkov’s death as murder,” the statement said. “As a precaution, the command is retaining primacy for the investigation because of the associations Mr. Glushkov is believed to have had.”

Meanwhile, the Russian Investigative Committee said it was also opening a criminal case into Glushkov’s death, also describing it as “murder.” In a statement, it also said it would investigate the attack on Yulia Skripal.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Britain of breaching international law in its investigation of the attack on the Skripals in the city of Salisbury. May said the agent used has been identified by British scientists as Novichok, which was developed in the Soviet Union.

Britain says it has invited Russia to cooperate in the investigation and that this invitation hasn’t been taken up.

In a glimmer of hope that there may still be a diplomatic resolution, late on Friday May’s office said the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it had agreed to travel to Britain to collect a sample of the nerve agent and to support the U.K.’s investigation into the poisoning of the Russian double agent.