The British government has officially blamed the Kremlin for the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent.
Sergei, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Julia remain in a critical condition after being found slumped on a bench in the town of Salisbury, Wiltshire, last Sunday. A police officer who was one of the first responders on the scene also remains seriously ill, although he is now described as stable and conscious.
“It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok,” Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday, addressing the House of Commons.
She continued, “Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent; …our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so; Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations; and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the Government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Julia Skripal.”
"It is highly likely that Russia was responsible" says Theresa May following the nerve agent attack on a former spy in Salisbury and his daughter pic.twitter.com/RS6o5hevaS
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 12, 2018
The British government has given the Kremlin until Wednesday to respond. If Russia is proved to be responsible, May said the British government would “consider it an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom,” paving the way for potential retaliatory sanctions. Details about the sanctions package are still unclear, but it could include the expulsion of diplomats, withdrawing British officials from visiting the World Cup in Russia this summer, or publishing classified material on alleged money laundering by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies.
“It’s clear that we have got the Russian government behaving certainly aggressively towards people in the United Kingdom, and even in quite a corrupting way,” Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat told BBC’s Radio 4.”We’re seeing Russian money corrupting other institutions, too. So we need to be extremely careful that we do not become victims to this. That means not only protecting ourselves by responding to acts of aggression as we’ve just seen, but also controlling the spread of corrupt Russian money.”
What the Prime Minister has just outlined is a sobering and horrifying example of the range of threats we now face – not unknown to our Baltic allies. Cool heads must prevail, but this crime cannot go unpunished.
— Stewart McDonald MP (@StewartMcDonald) March 12, 2018
Last Friday, 180 military personnel from specialist biological and chemical warfare units were sent to Salisbury to help remove vehicles and objects that had been potentially contaminated with the nerve agent. Investigators are also examining the grave of Skripal’s wife and son, Liudmila and Alexander, who died in 2012 and 2017 respectively. The two were originally thought to have died of natural causes, although the nature of the attack on Skripal has sparked renewed interest in his family members’ deaths. Around 500 diners and pub-goers have also been advised to wash their possessions after traces of a nerve agent were found on and around a restaurant table.
Russia has, perhaps predictably, completely denied its involvement with the poisoning. When asked by the BBC’s Moscow Correspondent about the attack, Putin responded, “First, get to the bottom of what happened there and then we’ll discuss this.”Russian state news anchor Dmitry Kiselyov meanwhile, suggested that the poisoning was in fact masterminded by the British to “stimulate their [the public’s] Russophobia”.
It’s not the first time high-profile Russians have been attacked on British soil. In 2006, former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was poisioned with radioactive material at a hotel bar in London. A 2016 public inquiry into the death concluded that he was likely killed by Russian security services. An investigation by BuzzFeed News last June found that U.S. intelligence officials had linked at least 14 other deaths on British soil to Russia.