May 20, 2018
Business

Russia fears Soccer World Cup could be ‘victimised’ in nerve gas stoush

Related Story: US, France, Germany blame Russia for nerve agent 'assault on UK sovereignty'Related Story: Australia mulls action against Russia over nerve agent assassination bid

Russia's top Australian diplomat has laid out the welcome mat to the English football team, despite the international rift caused by the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in the United Kingdom.

Key points:

  • Russia's Ambassador says it would be disappointing if nerve gas attack "overshadowed" Soccer World Cup
  • Ambassador Logvinov suggests UK may have had a motive to poison a former Russian double agent
  • He called on Mr Turnbull to back "Russia's demand" for a investigation"

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull condemned the use of chemical weapons in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daugher Yulia.

Earlier this month, both were found unconscious, slumped on a shopping centre bench in the British city of Salisbury.

British authorities say they were exposed to military-grade nerve gas and both remain critically ill.

A police officer who was also exposed to the attack is seriously ill.

The UK, US, Germany and France put out a joint statement concluding it was "highly likely" Russia was responsible.

Sergei Skripal and Yulia Skripal

A statement from Mr Turnbull earlier this week said Australia was "gravely concerned" that the attack was carried out using an illegal chemical weapon that was "developed by Russia".

Russia's ambassador in Canberra Grigory Logvinov told the ABC he was hopeful the attack would not overshadow the football World Cup, due to be held in Russia in the middle of this year.

"The English soccer team would be always welcome," the ambassador said.

"We would be disappointed that sport once again is being victimised to the politics."

Diplomat suggests UK could be to blame

Ambassador Logvinov suggested the UK might have had a motive to poison a former Russian double agent.

"I'm a governmental official and I'm not going to point with my finger at any party," Mr Logvinov said.

"Russia would be the last country to have any motive. For what purpose?"

He argued the claim about Russian involvement did not make sense.

"This guy was arrested, sentenced, he served his term, he was expelled from the country," Mr Logvinov said.

"What's the use for Russia to assassinate him in this way, just on the eve of presidential elections and when the world soccer championship is approaching.

"The other countries, they have much stronger motives by the way, including Great Britain."

Mr Turnbull's most recent written statement on the attack said Australia stood in solidarity with the UK and supported the position of Prime Minister Theresa May in the "strongest terms".

"Regrettably I have to disagree," Mr Logvinov said.

He said the chemical weapon the UK claimed to be responsible for the attack was allegedly developed in the 1970s or 80s in the USSR.

"It was the Soviet Union, which included besides Russia, 14 other republics," he said.

He listed the US, UK, Czech Republic and Sweden as countries that were all working on chemical weapons capability.

The Ambassador said he did not want to pre-empt Russia's actions in response to the UK's decision to expel 23 Russian officials.

He called on Mr Turnbull to back "Russia's demand to carry out a complete, thorough investigation".

Russia maintains sanctions hurt Australia more

The ambassador also shrugged off the threat of more sanctions, after previous measures that were implemented after the MH17 tragedy.

"I've had opportunity to meet a number of Australian businessmen, especially farmers," he said.

Grigory Logvinov sits in a chair speaking in an interview.

He maintains once Russia retaliated with its own measures, Australia was worse off.

"Australia's not the biggest Russian trading partner."

Mr Logvinov said former prime minister Tony Abbott's original threat to "shirtfront" President Putin did not last long.

"After pronouncing his intention, Tony Abbott learned that President Putin has a black belt in judo. That's why he lost his enthusiasm," he said.

Mr Logvinov told the ABC he wanted a chance to meet with Australian officials to explain Russia's position.

"I would be very eager," he said in reference to a chance to put his case to Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs.

He also invited Australian officials to travel to Moscow and conduct their own inquiries.

"If some of Australia's officials would decide to go to Moscow I guess, we would only welcome [them]," he said.

"Because we're always very happy about any opportunity to directly explain our … argument to the other party."

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