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By William Tucker
Contributor, In Homeland Security
British Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on Monday that it was “highly likely” Russia was responsible for the failed assassination attempt on former spy Sergei Skripal.
May went on to state, “Either this was a direct action by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”
She gave Russia until Tuesday to provide her government with a credible response to the incident. Otherwise, the U.K. could only conclude that the attack was an “unlawful use of force” by Moscow.
On Wednesday, after Russia rejected the deadline, May expelled 23 Russian diplomats in response to the poisoning attempt.
Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer turned British spy, and his daughter were attacked with the nerve agent Novichok (Russian for newcomer) earlier this month in Salisbury, England. Unnamed British sources told The Daily Mail that Novichok was smeared on his car door.
The highly toxic nerve agent wasn’t confined just to the intended target. Several police and civilians also suffered poisoning symptoms.
Novichok: Highly Toxic in Liquid or Solid Form
Novichok was developed in the former Soviet Union during the late 1970s. It is more toxic than VX, an extremely toxic synthetic chemical compound. Novichok can be used in liquid or solid form and can be stored as a binary agent.
The implications are clear. Britain views Russia as being responsible for this attack.
Russia Denies and Ridicules Accusations of Assassination Attempts
Russia’s response to the accusations has been predictable – complete denial and ridicule.
Despite May’s demand that Russia disclose the details of the Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Russia is unlikely to do so. Moscow claimed London has provided insufficient proof of Russian complicity in the attack.
Although British citizens were harmed in the assassination attempt, it is also unlikely that the incident will escalate beyond Tuesday’s diplomatic expulsions or possible increased sanctions. Russian media outlets in Britain might face expulsion as well.
Other options are available under British law, but we will have to wait and see how far May pursues this incident. The May government must act to end to these Russian operations in Britain because several Russians have been killed or died under mysterious circumstances.
UK Can Use Its EU Membership to Expand Russian Sanctions
There is another element to consider. The U.K. is still a member of the European Union and can use its membership to push the EU nations for additional sanctions against Russia.
The problem is that several EU members want to relax current Russian sanctions for domestic economy reasons. But the EU is far from united on this topic. Besides, with Britain’s coming “Brexit” from the EU, how much support can it generate within the EU?
In a way, this disunity benefits Russia up to a point. Russia displays a unique weakness in pursuing every international slight with a heavy hand.
Russia Likely to Face Retribution, But That May Not Dissuade Putin
The attack on Skripal was meant to be covert. But it became international news within a day. Furthermore, the attack failed to kill its intended target. Skripal remains in critical condition in a hospital.
Whatever the fallout is from this botched assassination attempt, Russia is unlikely to be dissuaded from further direct action measures against its perceived foes.
Russia has numerous economic, political and demographic problems. Rather than try to solve these issues, President Vladimir Putin pursues an aggressive path to shore up his domestic support. Since Russia’s problems are not easily solved, it is only natural that Putin will continue down this aggressive path until he crosses a line that will be difficult to backtrack from.
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