The UK will expel nearly two dozen Russian diplomats as a consequence for the assassination attempt on a former Russian spy in an English suburb last week. Prime Minister Theresa May rejected the Russian response to the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury as “sarcasm, contempt, and defiance” in a speech to Parliament. “The Russian state was culpable,” May told legislators, “for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter,” and declared that the attack “represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”
That falls just short of an accusation of war:
UK PM Theresa May on spy poisoning: Russia has "demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events… they have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance." https://t.co/gqdE3G5ihu pic.twitter.com/hRnYCZvYp5
— CNN (@CNN) March 14, 2018
May also threatened to go after Russia’s money:
"We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents" – Prime Minister Theresa May https://t.co/NICIjaztob
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) March 14, 2018
This might not be the end of the British response, the Washington Post reports:
Britain ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats believed involved in espionage-related activities, British Prime Minister announced Wednesday in the first wave of measures against Moscow for the nerve gas attack against a former double agent.
May, speaking to Parliament, also outlines a range of other steps, including a halt to high-level meetings with Russian officials and the halting a planned visit to Britain by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. …
British politicians and commentators said May could employ a range of diplomatic and financial sanctions — from clamping down on Russian oligarchs’ property-buying binge in London to tossing out embassy staff.
May could also ask the European Union, or even NATO, to join in a response to what she described as a “reckless” and “indiscriminate” attack, which not only endangered the lives of its two principal victims, the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, but also potentially exposed scores of others to the nerve agent, including a police officer who remains hospitalized.
Actually, NATO has already begun responding to the issue. May noted in her speech that the Novichok nerve agent developed by Russia is an undeclared chemical-weapons program. As May was rolling out the UK’s response, NATO demanded an answer from Russia about its development of Novichok:
The Western NATO military alliance called on Russia on Wednesday to give Britain “complete disclosure” of the Soviet-era nerve agent used in an attack on a Russian double agent on March 4, following a British briefing to allies at NATO headquarters.
“Allies expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO’s foundation,” the alliance, founded in 1949, said in a statement.
The New York Times provided a little background on the weapon yesterday:
For nearly three decades, since a Soviet whistle-blower told the world of its existence, the nerve agent Novichok has scared American weapons experts. The Pentagon sent teams to destroy abandoned laboratories that once produced the chemical, believed to be orders of magnitude more lethal than sarin or VX.
There was no sign of it ever being used. Until last week.
Now, Britons are taking in the disquieting information that a Novichok nerve agent, a weapon invented for use against NATO troops, was released in the quiet town of Salisbury, its target a former Russian spy named Sergei V. Skripal. Mr. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, collapsed onto a bench in a catatonic state on March 4, and remain hospitalized, in critical condition.
Actually, there may have been uses of it before, chemical weapons experts told the Times — and the Brits appear to have already realized it:
Exposure, either by inhalation or through the skin, leads to muscle spasms, secretion of fluid into the lungs and organ failure, sometimes accompanied by foaming at the mouth. But if the victim has already died, experts said, the police could easily mistake the cause of death for a simple heart attack. …
Britain’s Home Ministry on Tuesday indicated that it viewed state-sponsored violence by Moscow as a larger problem, announcing that it would scrutinize a series of suspicious deaths of Russians on British soil. Home Minister Amber Rudd said the police and MI5, Britain’s domestic security agency, would review 14 cases cataloged last year in an investigation by BuzzFeed. The British police also announced an investigation into the death on Monday of Nikolai Glushkov, a close associate of one of Mr. Putin’s most prominent foes.
Vladimir Putin might distinguish these possible murders from state-on-state aggression because he’s settling scores with Russians rather than on native Britons. That’s not how May sees it, nor would any other nation see it that way either, especially with the indiscriminate use of the nerve agent in Salisbury. It had the potential to poison hundreds of people and nearly killed the first responder to the scene. In that sense, it’s every bit as arrogant and contemptuous as North Korea’s use of VX in the Kuala Lumpur airport to assassinate Kim Jong-un’s ne’er-do-well brother Jong-nam.
The Russian ambassador called May’s speech and actions a “provocation“:
Russia’s UK ambassador says Britain’s behavior in connection with the investigation into the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy is a “provocation.”
Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko told Sky News after leaving London’s Foreign Office Wednesday that Britain’s actions are ” absolutely unacceptable and we consider this a provocation.” He did not elaborate.
Britain will snub the World Cup event in Russia this year, sending no ministers or royals along to attend as would normally be the case. That won’t hurt anything more than Putin’s pride, of course, but it sets an example that other NATO nations should consider. If Putin keeps ordering assassinations in other nations, then he should get treated as the pariah he clearly aims to be.