By Senior Campaign Agent Johnny Wordsworth
An assault on UK sovereignty and an assault on UK citizens? The first use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War has constituted an international outcry from Western nations. The ‘Novichok’ poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury has threatened our safety and breached international law. But what are the concrete facts so far?
- ‘Novichok’ is a military-grade nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union.
- Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia remain critically ill after the attempted murder in Salisbury on 4th March.
- The government has requested answers from the Russian leadership but explanations have not been forthcoming.
On Wednesday the 14th Theresa May made the decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats over the poisoning. This will be single biggest expulsion in over 30 years, raising tensions between the two countries to Cold War heights. So, what other sanctions has the PM imposed on Russia?
- Ministers and the Royal Family won’t be attending the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year.
- Russian state assets will be frozen if there is evidence they will be used as a weapon against UK nationals and residents.
- Checks on private flights, customs and freight will be increased.
- All planned high-level contacts between the UK and Russia will be suspended.
- The retraction of the state invitation to Russian's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Despite the drastic measures taken by the PM and her cabinet against Russia, there has yet been any concrete evidence that the crime was committed by the Kremlin, although it does look probable. Jeremy Corbyn has, however, refused to endorse the government’s conclusion that Russia was responsible for the poisoning either by directly sponsoring the attack on UK soil or by losing control of its nerve agent.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday, the Labour leader referenced Theresa May’s assertion about Russia’s culpability but did not say that he agreed with her imposed sanctions. He primarily argued that the sanctions could irreversibly damage the relations of Russia and the UK, which lately had been warming. From an economic perspective, the UK has a multiplicity of business relations with Russia, with the largest being British Petroleum’s (BP) stake in Rosneft, arguably the most asset rich company in the Soviet Union. This poses a few risks for us in the UK, are we likely to feel backlash from the Kremlin and is it right for the government to impose sanctions that could be damaging for us all, without absolute evidence?
This is clearly a contentious move, but many MP’s back it. The likelihood is that any agents of the UK government will be expelled from Moscow and tensions will likely worsen, with VISA’s and assets being completely frozen from Russian use. Gavin Williamson, Defence Secretary for the UK, has even told Putin to just “go away and shut up” rather than expel British diplomats in retaliation.
Despite the evidence being unconfirmed, NATO, France, Germany and other EU nations have joined in collectively condemning Russia. Russia’s only statement has disagreed with the UK, arguing the UK government has a bad case of political myopia. But, when it comes down to it, Theresa May has a point.
The Prime Minister alleged that “[the Russians] have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent,” and “no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom [and] no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons program in contravention of international law.”
It seems both the UK and Soviet government will not reach any likely agreement regarding their views. This could be the right decision until further evidence is found, especially as Sergei and Yulia’s attempted assassination seemed to kickstart what some people are calling an almost obvious destruction of implicating evidence by the Kremlin. Since Salisbury, several Russians have been attacked or died in the United Kingdom. The most recent is Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian exile who was found dead in his London home on Monday night.
Glushkov had links to countrymen who died in unexplained circumstances in the UK, but police have said there was no indication of a link between Glushkov's death and Skripal's poisoning. Yet they are being especially cautious.
It will be interesting to see how events unfold, hopefully evidence will be obtained that will appropriately incriminate those responsible.
Sources and Further Reading
- ‘Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson tells Putin to 'go away and shut up' rather than expel British diplomats from Russia’, The Independent (March 15, 2018)
- ‘Russian spy poisoning: Theresa May to visit Salisbury as nerve agent investigation continues’, The Independent (March 15, 2018)
- ‘Britain holds Russia to account over the Skripal affair’, The Economist (March 15, 2018)
- ‘Russian spy poisoning: U.K. to expel 23 diplomats in retaliation for spy poisoning’, NBC News (March 14, 2018)
- ‘Russian spy: Moscow vows swift response on expulsions, BBC News (March 15, 2018)
- ‘Terror police investigate death of Litvinenko witness Nikolai Glushkov at home’, The Times (March 14, 2018)
- Neil Tweeide, ‘The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko…’, The Telegraph (January 31, 2005)
- Haukkala, H., 2015. From cooperative to contested Europe? The conflict in Ukraine as a culmination of a long-term crisis in EU–Russia relations. Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 23(1), pp.25-40.
- ‘France’s Position on Russian Nerve Agent Attack Explained’, The Independent (March 16, 2018)
- Adam Taylor, ‘Britain’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats marks a return to Cold War ejections’, The Washington Post (March 14, 2018)
- Schams Elwazer, Nathan Hodge and James Masters, ‘Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov found dead in his London home’, CNN (March 14, 2018)
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons