THERESA May has clashed with Vladimir Putin over the Salisbury poisoning, calling it a “truly despicable act”, during a frosty one-to-one meeting at the G20 summit in Osaka that is likely to be their last encounter.
After exchanging a handshake, during which May appeared stern, the pair held the first half of their 80-minute meeting alone, with only translators in the room.
A senior government official confirmed that before the meeting, the prime minister had read a defiant interview with the Russian president in the Financial Times, in which he declared liberalism to be “obsolete”.
According to a Downing Street spokesperson, she told Putin: “The use of a deadly nerve agent on the streets of Salisbury formed part of a wider pattern of unacceptable behaviour and was a truly despicable act that led to the death of a British citizen, Dawn Sturgess.”
And she confronted Putin with the fact that the UK had gathered “irrefutable evidence that Russia was behind the attack – based on painstaking investigations and co-operation with our allies”.
“She said that this behaviour could never be repeated and that the UK wants to see the two individuals responsible brought to justice,” the spokesperson added.
“The prime minister underlined that we remain open to a different relationship, but for that to happen the Russian government must choose a different path. The prime minister said the UK would continue to unequivocally defend liberal democracy and protect the human rights and equality of all groups, including LGBT people.”
The prime minister had insisted before the pair met that Britain’s relationship with Russia could not return to “business as usual” while the suspects from the Salisbury poisoning remained at large and Moscow continued to carry out disinformation and cyber-attacks.
“It’s not business as usual and it can’t be business as usual with Russia until they stop the sort of acts we have seen them doing around the world,” she told ITV. “We in the UK have seen the use of a nerve agent, a chemical weapon, on the streets of Salisbury.
“But we see other Russian activity around the world – we see the use of disinformation, cyber-attacks – and we need to see Russia desisting from that activity.”