Saturday 31 March 2018

UNITED KINGDOM: Russian Plane Searched In London, A Blatant Provocation Says Russia

The search was reported on Friday afternoon. The Airbus returned to Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow in the early hours of Saturday after completing a round trip.

Today, we have witnessed another blatant provocation by the British authorities, the Russian Embassy in London said in a statement. This kind of event is extraordinary.

Confusion arose over who did the search. UK police were involved, but the London’s Metropolitan Police denied a role on Twitter.

Russian diplomatic mission later said the plane had been boarded by border force and customs officers, who ordered the crew off in violation of existing rules.

After long talks conducted by an Embassy officer the captain of the plane was allowed to stay, according to the mission.

Russia’s flagship air carrier Aeroflot described the search as a violation of the world practice of carrying out such inspections. It said UK authorities had forced the crew off and isolated the captain in the pilot’s cabin.

After the search was over, the British officers refused to provide any written document that would specify the reasons for their actions, their legal foundation and their outcome, the Russian Embassy said.

The Embassy tried to contact the UK Foreign Office to clarify the incident and inappropriate behavior of British officials but without success.

It then sent a diplomatic note demanding explanations.

The plane’s pilot, who spoke to Russian media shortly after landing in Moscow on Saturday morning, said British officers were looking for illegal items.

Several people turned up with a dog and told us they needed to search the aircraft for items prohibited for carriage by air, Vitaly Mitrofanov told Rossiya 24 television channel.

The pilot said he stayed in the cabin while the officers were on board and was unaware of what they were doing most of the time. This was against common rules that require crew to accompany inspectors.

I wasn’t allowed to see what they were doing. Under our rules, an inspector is to be accompanied by crew members, Mitrofanov said. “

We agreed to this after consulting the consul and air security so that we could proceed with the flight.

The Russian Embassy blamed the incident on UK’s overall hostility toward Russia following a spat over a former spy’s poisoning.

We will carefully analyse what has happened.

At this moment, we have no other explanation but that the incident at Heathrow is in one way or another connected with the hostile policy that the UK government is conducting with regard to Russia, the statement read.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that the search was ordered by UK authorities to cover up for their lack of progress in the poisoning probe.
Yulia Skripal
Russia has demanded proof of its guilt in a murder attempt at Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

We cannot rule out this being another provocation by the UK authorities that they need in order to save, by all means, their truly tarnished reputation in connection to the so-called Skripal case, Zakharova said.

Ties between Russia and the United Kingdom soured after a former Russian spy and his daughter were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4 with symptoms of poisoning.

London blamed Moscow for the suspected nerve gas attack and expelled 23 Russian diplomats.

Russia denied the claims and reciprocated the expulsion earlier this week.

The UK government is considering allowing Russian officials to visit Yulia Skripal, who is recovering in hospital along with her father Sergei after a nerve agent attack.

Ms Skripal is understood to be conscious and talking after she was poisoned with novichok while visiting her father in Salisbury.

Police are treating the poisoning as attempted murder. The attack has provoked a worldwide diplomatic spat as Western nations have joined the UK in expelling Russian officials in response.

Mr Skripal, a former Russian spy, has been in a critical condition since 4 March.

The Russian Embassy in London said in a tweet on Friday that it insists "on the right to see" Ms Skripal, who is a Russian citizen.

A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are considering requests for consular access in line with our obligations under international and domestic law, including the rights and wishes of Yulia Skripal."

Meanwhile, Russia has told the UK it must send home just over 50 more of its diplomats in the ongoing tit-for-tat row.

Russia has already retaliated against Britain for the UK's expulsion of Russian intelligence agents by ejecting 23 British diplomats over the attack on the Skripals.

On Friday, the UK's ambassador to Moscow was told London had one month to cut its diplomatic contingent in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

On Saturday, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that meant Britain would have to cut a little over 50 additional diplomats in Russia.

We asked for parity. The Brits have 50 diplomats more than the Russians, she said.

It came after Russia claimed UK authorities searched one of their planes at a London airport in what they called a blatant provocation and threatened to board British planes in retaliation.

The Russian Embassy in the UK said in a statement: Today, we have witnessed another blatant provocation by the British authorities.

Border Force and Customs officers have searched the aircraft that was conducting the Aeroflot flights 2582 / 2583, Moscow - London - Moscow.

This kind of event is extraordinary.

They also alleged British officials had tried to search the plane in the absence of the crew.

The Russian embassy added: "Of course, we will carefully analyse what has happened. At this moment, we have no other explanation but that the incident at Heathrow is in one way or another connected with the hostile policy that the UK government is conducting with regard to Russia."

The Russian ministry of transport later said: "If there is no explanation, the Russian side will deem the actions towards our plane as illegal and also reserve the right to take similar action against British airlines."

Russia is continuing to expel other foreign diplomats in a tit-for-tat response to countries across the world sending home Russian diplomats in solidarity with Britain following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

Russia faces mass expulsions of its diplomatic staff around the world, with more than 150 sent back from 25 countries, and NATO.

Ambassadors from a number of other nations, including Germany, Italy, Poland and France, were also summoned by Moscow's foreign ministry.

Sixty Russian diplomats expelled by the United States were due to return home on Saturday, Moscow's envoy said.

In total, 171 people will leave the country, with two Russian planes being provided with one making a brief stopover in New York to collect 14 families.

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