Western alliance to Putin: We know it was you

It’s not an Article V declaration, but it’s not far off from it either. This morning, the US, Germany, and France issued a joint statement with the UK firmly placing the blame for a nerve agent assassination attempt on Russia, calling it “a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law.” The four nations demand that Russia start providing better answers — and fully disclose its chemical weapons program, including its work on Novichok, the weapon used in Salisbury:

The U.S., U.K., Germany and France on Thursday issued a joint statement on blaming Russia for the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, England last week.

“We, the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, abhor the attack that took place against Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK, on 4 March 2018,” the governments said.

“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,” they added.

It certainly doesn’t sound as though Donald Trump wants to take it easy on Vladimir Putin in this instance. Be sure to read Allahpundit’s post last night on Nikki Haley’s statement at the United Nations for background on this as well. Not only is the White House not hesitating, they seem to be getting more assertive as this rolls forward. This latest statement doesn’t involve NATO or its core common-defense clause in Article V, but the allegation itself of an “offensive use” of a weapon of war within the NATO alliance may well bring this up if Russia doesn’t respond with some explanations of its Novichok program.

For now, the Russians are still playing offense … and offended. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blamed Brexit for creating a political witch hunt against Moscow:

Russia warned on Thursday that it would retaliate very soon for Britain’s expulsion of 23 diplomats over a nerve toxin attack on a Russian former double agent. …

Russia denies any involvement and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused London of behaving in a “boorish” way, adding that this was partly due to the problems Britain faces over its planned exit from the European Union next year.

Lavrov said Russia’s response would come “very soon” but be conveyed to British officials first, an apparent contradiction of an earlier report by state news agency RIA that said Lavrov had promised to expel British diplomats.

His British counterpart Boris Johnson lays out the case against Russia — and for Western unity — in today’s Washington Post:

Our experts have identified the weapon used in Salisbury on March 4 as a fourth-generation nerve agent known as Novichok, designed to play havoc with the central nervous system and inflict a lingering death.

Russian scientists developed Novichok starting in the 1970s. Today, only Russia combines a record of state-sponsored assassinations with a publicly avowed motive for trying to kill Sergei Skripal and stockpiles of Novichok agents. …

There is a reason for choosing Novichok. In its blatant Russian-ness, the nerve agent sends a signal to all who may be thinking of dissent in the intensifying repression of Putin’s Russia. The message is clear: We will find you, we will catch you, we will kill you — and though we will deny it with lip-curling scorn, the world will know beyond doubt that Russia did it.

Johnson gave the Russian ambassador 36 hours to explain themselves, which passed without any satisfactory response. Now, Johnson argues, this goes beyond a “bilateral dispute”:

If the Russian state is prepared to deploy a banned weapon in a British city — amounting to the unlawful use of force against the United Kingdom — then the Kremlin is clearly willing to act without restraint. The bleak truth is that what happened in Salisbury could have happened anywhere. …

All responsible nations share an obligation to take a principled stance against this behavior. The countermeasures announced by the prime minister are not solely about the attack in Salisbury. Britain is striving to uphold the rules on which the safety of every country depends. I hope and believe that our friends will stand alongside us.

Johnson is absolutely correct in this position. The Putin regime has become a gangster government, ordering hits around the world with no regard to sovereignty or public safety. By using an agent like Novichok, they want to rub everyone’s noses in it while hiding behind diplomatic niceties and demanding the benefit of the doubt. At least so far, it appears that the Western alliance has had enough of that game — and thankfully that includes the Trump administration. Perhaps if the past two administrations had been more clear-eyed about the threat that Putin represented, we might not find ourselves in the position we occupy today, but at this point there is no excuse for blindness when it comes to Russia.

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