Russian President Vladimir Putin today dismissed British accusations of Russia's involvement in an ex-spy's poisoning as "nonsense," but added that Moscow is ready to cooperate with London in the investigation.

In his first comments on the incident, Putin referred to the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter as a "tragedy".

He said that if the British claim that they were poisoned by the Soviet-designed nerve agent were true, the victims would have been killed instantly.

Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer convicted in his home country of spying for Britain, and his daughter have remained in critical condition following the March 4 poisoning.


"It's quite obvious that if it were a military-grade nerve agent, people would have died on the spot," Putin said.

"Russia doesn't have such means. We have destroyed all our chemical weapons under international oversight unlike some of our partners."

Putin's comments came a few hours after British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he has evidence that Russia has been stockpiling a nerve agent in violation of international law "very likely for the purposes of assassination".

Johnson said the trail of blame for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury "leads inexorably to the Kremlin".

Johnson told reporters that Britain has information that within the last 10 years, "the Russian state has been engaged in investigating the delivery of such agents, Novichok agents ... very likely for the purposes of assassination."

He said: "they have been producing and stockpiling Novichok, contrary to what they have been saying."

Putin dismissed the British accusations, emphasising that an attack on Skripal would make no sense.

"Any reasonable man would understand that it's just sheer nonsense, complete rubbish to think that anyone in Russia could do anything like that in the run-up to the presidential election and the World Cup," he said.


"It's simply unthinkable."


MARCH 26, 2000:
Vote share won: 52.9 per cent Turnout: 68.7 per cent
MARCH 14, 2004:
Vote share won: 71.3 per cent Turnout: 64.4 per cent
MARCH 4, 2012:
Vote share won: 63.6 per cent Turnout: 65.3 per cent
Vote share won: 75 per cent (provisional results) Turnout: 60-64 per cent (estimated)
- Central Election Commission figures

At the same time, Putin, who won another six-year term in today's election, said that Moscow is open for taking part in the probe together with Britain.

"We are ready for cooperation. We said it right away," he said.

"We are ready to take part in the investigation, but it's necessary that the other side shows interest in that too. We haven't seen that, but we don't exclude the possibility of joint work."

Johnson said he will brief European Union foreign ministers on the case tomorrow before meeting with Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

He also said officials from the Netherlands-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would arrive tomorrow in Britain to take samples of the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals.

Britain says it is Novichok, a class of powerful nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War. Tests to independently verify the British findings are expected to take at least two weeks, Britain's Foreign Office said.

- AP