THERESA MAY laid the blame for the Salisbury poison attack firmly at Vladimir Putin’s door last night.
The prime minister revealed the nerve agent used on former KGB colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia was Russian-made novichok.
She told MPs the only possibilities were that Moscow ordered the murder attempt or that it let the poison fall into someone else’s hands.
She has given Russia’s ambassador in London until midnight to give an explanation.
MPs will be updated tomorrow, with Mrs May prepared to impose new sanctions on the country.
‘This was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk,’ she said. ‘We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.’
Mrs May told the Commons Russia has a record of carrying out ‘state-sponsored assassinations and ‘views some defectors as legitimate targets’.
Ex-double agent Mr Skripal could have been a target as he was jailed for helping MI6 before being freed in a spy swap deal and given refuge here.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson yesterday delivered the ultimatum to the Russian ambassador during a meeting at which both men were ‘cool but firm’ and did not shake hands.
Possible sanctions could include expelling the ambassador and other diplomats and freezing or seizing British-based assets owned by Russians.
The prime minister added: ‘We have led the way in securing tough sanctions against the Russian economy and we have, at all stages, worked closely with our allies and we will continue to do so.
‘We must now stand ready to take much more extensive measures.’
Her speech was welcomed by Salisbury and South Wiltshire MP John Glen, who said: ‘We will respond appropriately to this despicable act and make it crystal clear there will be consequences for those who attempt to murder innocent people on British soil.’
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called Mrs May’s statement to MPs ‘a circus show’ and accused her of a ‘political campaign based on a provocation’.
Asked earlier by the BBC if Russia was involved, president Putin said: ‘Get to the bottom of things there, then we’ll discuss this.’
Mrs May’s comments were branded irresponsible by Russian Andrei Lugovoi. He was named at a British public inquiry as one of two men behind the murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium in London in 2006.
The White House condemned the ‘reckless and indiscriminate’ attack in Salisbury but did not name Russia.
Mr Skripal, 66, and Yulia, 33, were still in a critical condition in hospital last night after being found collapsed on a bench on March 4.
Det Sgt Nick Bailey, 38, who was exposed to the novichok while giving the pair first aid, was in a serious but stable condition.
Police and Army teams working on the investigation yesterday extended operations to Winterslow, a village about six miles from Salisbury.
Officers in protective suits used trucks to remove a white van marked with the logo of a breakdown recovery firm.
They also sealed off the top level of the car park at a Sainsbury’s in the shopping centre next to where the Skripals were found.
Bella Thomas, the postmaster in Winterslow, said: ‘The press keep saying about sleepy Salisbury city centre, and we’re obviously a sleepy village, it’s a bit of a shock. It’s like a scene from The Twilight Zone, something you would see in the movies.’
Deadly relic of the Cold War that brings on a horrific end
NOVICHOK is a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s.
Some varieties are said to be ten times more powerful than the VX chemical used to kill Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, in Malaysia last year.
Experts say novichok is fast-acting, could potentially be a gas, liquid or powder, and its use would quickly cause extreme discomfort to a victim.
Novichok, like all nerve agents, targets the nervous system of the human body.
It can paralyse muscles, cause breathing problems and loss of bodily functions, fill the lungs with mucus causing choking and convulsions — leading to a victim dying from knock-on effects such as cardiac arrest or asphyxiation.
The symptoms appear to match the description of how witnesses found the Skripals in Salisbury. A hospital worker who helped Yulia told the BBC she appeared to be having a fit, had stopped breathing and was vomiting.
Loosely translated as ‘newcomer’ or ‘newbie’, Western officials believe novichok, which is created by mixing two ‘non-toxic’ ingredients, was developed by the USSR to help it dodge treaty obligations for chemical weapons.
Dr Patricia Lewis, an international security expert at Chatham House, said it may have been used by Russia to ‘send a message’ to double agents — but added it was also possible the weapon might have been stolen by an individual or group.
She told Metro: ‘It was developed in Russia to avoid detection and penetrate protective clothing, so it was, at the time, highly prized.
‘The purpose is to kill people with the maximum distress possible to the victim.
‘There is a cruelty associated with it that makes their deaths particularly horrible.’
She added: ‘It could be that whoever used it wanted to point the finger at Russia, or it could be that Russia wants to send a message’.
Novichok is known to have been produced at a Soviet Union weapons lab in Uzbekistan.
Russian officials left in 1993 but it wasn’t until 1999 that US experts arrived to dismantle and decontaminate the facility.