Russians taunt 'Gavin Williamson the wench' as West is united

NIcholas Cecil, Joe Murphy and Will Stewart in Moscow
War of words: Russian defence ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov has hit back at Gavin Williamson: Sergei Bobylev/TASS via Getty Images

Britain today warned Russia that the “world is losing patience” amid a growing backlash against Moscow over the Salisbury attack.

Nato warned the Kremlin that it had miscalculated the resolve of the West in responding to the first use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War.

Moscow, however, taunted Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who yesterday told Russia to “go away and shut up”.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesman at Russia’s defence ministry, accused him of “market wench talk” and Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, suggested the MP “lacks education”. Mr Lavrov also confirmed that Moscow will expel British diplomats in retaliation for Theresa May’s move on Wednesday.

The Prime Minister ordered 23 Russian envoys suspected of spying to pack their bags following the conclusion that Russia was behind the poisoning of the former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury earlier this month. The Kremlin has denied involvement.

Mr Konashenkov said of Mr Williamson, 41: “The market wench talk that British defence secretary Gavin Williamson resorted to reflects his extreme intellectual impotency.

“It proves the deficiency of London’s accusations thrown at Russia in the past but also the inadequacy of the accusers.”

Gavin Williamson told Russia to

As the tensions grew, Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg stressed: “I am absolutely certain that Russia has underestimated the resolve and unity of Nato allies. The Nato allies express strong political support for the UK. The UK is not alone. All allies stand in solidarity with the UK.”

After being briefed by Britain’s National Security Adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill, in Brussels, he added: “We have no reason to doubt the findings and assessments made by the British government.”

The UK and Poland are launching action to step up the battle against Russian “disinformation”. They will also work with nations on Russia’s borders, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine to defend their institutions. In Uxbridge, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson signed a memorandum of understanding with his Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz. Experts will tackle online trolls, bots and fake news coming out of Russia.

Critical: Sergei and Yulia Skripal are fighting for life in hospital (PA)

Mr Johnson said: “What we’ve seen over the last few days is an abundance of support from our friends across the continent and beyond. Support which shows the world is losing its patience with Russia’s flagrant disregard for the international order on which we all rely.”

Britain will spend £100 million over five years to target Russian disinformation, including by boosting support for independent Russian language media, particularly in Eastern Europe.

Last night Britain, the US, Germany and France issued a joint call to Russia to explain the Salisbury attack. US president Donald Trump said it looked as though the Russians were behind the attempt to kill Mr Skripal, 66, who was convicted of spying for MI6 in 2006, and his daughter Yulia, 33.

An 83-year-old whistleblower who revealed the existence of the Novichok nerve agent in the Nineties said the Skripals have little chance of surviving the use of the weapon. Vil Mirzayanov, who now lives in New Jersey, said a few countries in the world have laboratories powerful enough to develop the toxin.

Senior political figures in Britain were also taken back by Mr Williamson’s “go away and shut up” comment. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who served as both foreign secretary and defence secretary, said: “It was not very diplomatic language but he is the defence secretary, not the foreign secretary. He mixes with the military who sometimes use stronger language than diplomats.”

However, the Tory grandee was far more appalled by the social media “mockery and sarcasm” coming from the Russian embassy in London to the incident. He added: “If the Russian ambassador authorised that behaviour in tweets from his own embassy, he should be ashamed and himself start packing his own bags.”

Former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown, who served as high representative in Bosnia, criticised Mr Williamson’s “schoolboy comments”.

Former Navy head Lord West, who served as a Labour security minister, backed the measures being taken by the Government and said Britain had known decades ago that Russia had not completely ditched its chemical weapons arsenal. The peer, who served as Chief of Defence Intelligence from 1997 to 2000, said: “We knew that they had not destroyed all of their holdings of chemical weapons even though they said they had. They had holdings of particularly nasty, nerve agent toxin.”