Donald Trump yesterday hit Russia with new sanctions for election meddling and cyber-attacks as Washington vowed to punish Moscow’s “nefarious attacks”.
Nineteen people and five Russian organisations were targeted in what amounts to the most significant action against Moscow since President Trump took office.
The news came shortly after Western leaders backed Britain in blaming Russia for the nerve agent attack in Salisbury 10 days ago.
Mr Trump, with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel, rallied round Theresa May after days of mixed messages, directly blaming Russia for the attack which left double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia hospitalised.
Their joint statement represented a major boost for the Prime Minister and came 24 hours after she moved to expel 23 Russian diplomats and suspended high-level contact with Moscow in response to the Salisbury incident.
In the unprecedented joint message, Mr Macron, Mrs Merkel and Mr Trump said they agreed with Mrs May’s assessment that there was "no plausible alternative explanation" for the attack.
The statement, issued by 10 Downing Street, said: “The United Kingdom briefed thoroughly its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack.
“We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility.
“We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury.”
“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.
“It is an assault on UK sovereignty and any such use by a State party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all.”
France’s decision to back Britain was in contrast to Paris’s response on Wednesday when President Macron’s spokesman derided Mrs May’s decision to act against Moscow as "fantasy politics".
Benjamin Griveaux had told a news conference: “Once the elements are proven then the time will come for decisions to be made.”
But that hardened overnight with François Delattre, France’s permanent representative to the UN, saying: “We have full confidence in the British investigation.”
In Brussels, Nato member states were briefed by UK National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council.
That came shortly after former Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the international response must be collective or it would be a victory for Russia.
He told the BBC: "A collective response is very important. Anything short of full solidarity with the UK now will be considered a victory for the Kremlin.”
Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary, also added to the pressure, saying: “It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that. Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up.”
On Wednesday night Vasily Nebenzya, the Russian permanent representative to the United Nations, compared the British government to Inspector LeStrade, a "hapless" investigator from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.
The Russian Embassy in London claimed it had received death threats after Mrs May’s announcement.
Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko’s told the Russian news channel Rossiya-24 that the embassy had received "a mass of messages", including some from Britons vowing to take revenge.
Under the new Washington sanctions, Russia’s spying agency the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, was among those hit.
The action punished Russian behaviour that pre-dated the Salisbury attack but Steven Mnuchin, the US treasury secretary, said it was part of a “broader effort” to address the country’s "nefarious attacks".
Mr Mnuchin said: “The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyberactivity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure.
“These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.”
The sanctions against Russia will block those affected from travelling to America, freeze any assets they have in the country and bar US companies from working with them.
A US Treasury statement said the FSB, Russia’s intelligence organisation, “knowingly engages in significant activities that undermine cyber-security on behalf of the Russian government”.
It added that the FSB had targeted US government officials in cyber-security, diplomacy, the military and the White House, as well as critical Russian journalists and politicians at home.
Russia’s military intelligence organisation, the Main Intelligence Directorate, was also sanctioned.
Many of the individuals targeted allegedly worked for the Internet Research Agency, the Russia ‘troll factory’ which America believes systematically targeted the 2016 election campaign.
More than 40 US Congressmen also signed a letter, seen by The Daily Telegraph, to Mrs May pledging “full support” in taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin over the attack
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