Russia 'not to blame' for former spy's poisoning, foreign minister says

Russian officials have mocked a U.K. ultimatum to explain nerve agent attack.

May has given Russia until midnight Wednesday to provide a "credible" explanation for how what she called a Russian military-grade nerve agent came to be used in Skripal's poisoning, or face retaliation from Britain.

Lavrov, at a news conference today, said Russia is ready to assist in investigating the attack, but added that London would be "better off" complying with its international obligations "before putting forward ultimatums."

There has been little sign Russia is preparing to acquiesce to the British demands for an explanation. The Russian response so far been mostly bombastic denials and claims of a setup.

Russia’s foreign ministry today also mocked May's accusations and suggested they were an invention to smear Moscow.

“What PR man could come up with such a thing? Only someone at the level of Theresa May!” Maria Zakharova, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, wrote on her Facebook page.

The ministry’s official Twitter account posted a sarcastic message making “sincere thanks to Mrs. May for #HighlyLikelyRussia” accompanied by a video blaming Russia for the severe snowstorms that have caused gridlock the U.K. in the past month.

“It is only in the hands of a very, very limited number of parties,” Tillerson told reporters, warning that the poisoning would “certainly trigger a response.”

An officer in Russia's military intelligence service, Skripal sold information to Britain's MI6 spying agency in the late 1990s before he was arrested and convicted of high treason. Russian officials have said the new claims are part of an anti-Russian campaign that included the investigation into Russian election meddling in the United States.

“The same algorithm is being applied as in ‘Russia Gate’ in the U.S.,” Konstantin Kosachev, the head of Russia’s foreign affairs committee, whose comments often herald the Kremlin line, wrote in a Facebook post.

“A total presumption of guilt,” he wrote, where the accused is “not granted access to either the evidence or the process.” The West was turning to a “Stalinist” form of justice, he wrote.

Russian state television has suggested the poisoning, which led authorities to tell hundreds to wash their clothes as a precaution, could have been staged by British intelligence. Last week, an anchor on a main evening news broadcast also appeared to issue a warning to traitors.

Lugovoi, who was made an MP in Russia's parliament after he was accused of the killing, said Britain was following the same "template" in the Skripal case. Russian authorities blocked British requests to help investigate Litvinenko's killing and to question Lugovoi, and the British inquiry concluded Putin had "probably" personally ordered the killing.

May said in her statement Monday that it Russia does not respond to the allegations by midnight Wednesday, Britain will treat the chemical attack as an “unlawful use of force” warranting retaliation. That could involve diplomatic expulsions, fresh sanctions and visa restrictions on wealthy Russians deemed close to the Kremlin, as well as potentially calling for increased NATO troop numbers in Eastern Europe.