Moscow fears London could destroy evidence in ex-spy's case

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Moscow fears London could destroy evidence in ex-spy's case
A plane which carried Russian diplomats and their family members ordered to leave Britain as part of a standoff over a nerve agent attack on British soil, at Vnukovo 2 government airport outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, March 20, 2018. Nearly two dozen Russian diplomats expelled by Britain over the poisoning of an ex-spy arrived home Tuesday, while a scientist involved in the creation of the nerve agent said it could be manufactured by other countries. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian foreign ministry official said on Wednesday that Moscow fears Britain could destroy key evidence in the nerve agent attack on an ex-Russian spy.

Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in the English city of Salisbury after being found unconscious on a public bench on March 4. Britain says they were poisoned with a nerve agent known as Novichok and has blamed Russia for being behind the attack, but Russia has fiercely denied any involvement.

The case prompted the two nations to expel diplomats in a tit-for-tat dispute.

The Russian foreign ministry invited foreign ambassadors in Moscow to brief them about the allegations on Wednesday, but the British and the U.S. missions shunned the meeting and sent lower-level diplomats instead.

Vladimir Yermakov, deputy head of the ministry’s department for non-proliferation, told the briefing that Russia “has nothing to do with (the poisoning) whatsoever” because, for one thing, it “does not benefit us in any way.” Yermakov said that Britain is “hiding facts” and fears that key evidence might “disappear.” He did not elaborate.

Russia previously claimed it had no motive to kill Skripal, who was convicted of spying for Britain but released in a 2010 spy swap. Moscow has also insisted that it had completed the destruction of its chemical arsenals last year under international oversight.

Russian scientist Leonid Rink told the state RIA Novosti news agency on Tuesday that Britain and others could easily synthesize Novichok after chemical expert Vil Mirzayanov emigrated to the U.S. and revealed its formula.

Gen. Igor Kirillov of the Russian Defense Ministry on Wednesday called the publication of Mirzayanov’s book “complicity to terrorism.”

Kirillov also accused “Western nations” of “exploiting all possible methods to discredit Russia” while Yermakov hinted that the poisoning “may have been directed from overseas,” adding that the United States still has a sizeable stockpile of chemical weapons.