United Kingdom: Punishing Russia for a poison attack
Britain is retaliating against a Russian chemical attack on its soil with “the biggest diplomatic swipe in decades,” said James Tapsfield and Kate Ferguson in the Daily Mail. Prime Minister Theresa May said this week that she would suspend all high-level contacts with Russia and expel 23 Russian diplomats—all believed to be intelligence agents—to punish Moscow for the poisoning of Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33. The two were found slumped on a park bench in the city of Salisbury last week; they and a police officer who attended to them are critically ill. British scientists have identified the substance that poisoned the three as Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent designed in Soviet labs; traces of the chemical weapon were found at a pub and pizza parlor visited by the father and daughter. “There is no other conclusion other than that the Russian state was responsible,” May said. The prime minister also threatened action against “corrupt elites,” an apparent reference to the many Russian oligarchs, some with ties to President Vladimir Putin, who have homes in Britain, and said she would strengthen Britain’s ability to impose sanctions. Moscow denied all culpability, and the Russian Embassy called May’s measures “totally unacceptable, unjustified, and shortsighted.”
May’s response is too little, too late, said Owen Jones in The Guardian. Her Conservative Party has received more than $4 million in donations from Russian oligarchs and their associates since 2010, a quarter of that since May took over in 2016. British banks, too, are “awash with dodgy money from Russia.” Has that money allowed Russia to get away with using Britain as its personal killing field? At least 14 suspicious deaths here have been linked to Moscow over the past 15 years, including that of British scientist Matthew Puncher. Puncher, who investigated the fatal 2006 poisoning of Russian whistleblower Alexander Litvinenko, was found in his kitchen with stab wounds to his stomach, neck, and arms; his death was ruled a suicide.
The entire country must reckon with our grave misjudgment of this “serious, long-term threat to our security,” said former Foreign Minister William Hague in The Daily Telegraph. Even now, the Russians are maintaining Soviet-era levels of covert activity and are preparing ways to hack our vital national infrastructure, such as snapping “the undersea cables on which all our communications and finances depend.” And just this week, another Russian critic of Putin, Nikolai Glushkov, was found dead of unknown causes at his British home. May’s resolve must be matched by that of our allies. “The slumbering West will have to wake up.” Don’t look to the U.S., said Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. President Donald Trump said he supports the U.K. “all the way,” but failed to condemn Russia specifically. So much for “the once-special relationship.” ■