UK has warned Russia that it would respond “robustly” if the investigation found that Russia had been involved in a recent attack on a British spy.
Sergei Viktorovich Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer (and a spy for British intelligence) who has been hospitalized after he and his daughter were poisoned.
Ties between UK and Russia can be traced back nearly five centuries. The Russians and British were allies against Napoleon, and enemies in the Crimean War of the 1850s. They were rivals again during the Great Game for control of central Asia in the late 19th century. They were allies again in World Wars I and II, although relations were strained by the Russian Revolution of 1917. During the Cold War, UK remained a strong ally for the United States and relations with Soviet Union was fraught. The end of the Cold War also established better ties between the two nations.
Since 2014, the ties between Russia and the UK have turned hostile. The British government took the lead, with France and Germany, in imposing punitive sanctions by the EU against Russia for what Prime Minister David Cameron denounced as Russia's seizure of Crimea and support for separatists in Ukraine. Further sanctions followed after the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel territory. Russia warned against reopening the Cold War and responded by partially cutting trade with the EU.
In November 2017, UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, launched an extraordinary attack against Russia by accusing the nation of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media. In what has been deemed as an extraordinary attack, she condemned Russia’s alleged attempts to “weaponize information” in order to sow discord in the west.
UK Foreign Minister, Boris Johnson, during a visit to Russia even warned the nation against meddling with UK affairs.
Sergei Viktorovich Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who in the 1990s and early 2000s acted as an agent for Britain′s intelligence services. In December 2004, he was arrested by Russia′s Federal Security Service (FSB) and later tried, convicted of high treason and imprisoned. In 2010, as part of the Illegals Program spy swap, he settled in the UK.
Skripal and his daughter, Yulia were poisoned and both were hospitalized while critically ill. In addition, three police officers who responded to the crime scene also required treatment for breathing difficulties. A spokesman for the Russian president Vladimir Putin has said "we don't have information on what could have led to this" but said they would assist in the investigation.
It has since been confirmed that Skripal was attacked by a nerve agent and his daughter may have taken ill after trying to help him. Media reports have stated that the UK government fears that Kremlin may have been involved in the attack on Skripal. Boris Johnson sounded a warning to Russian government noting that that Britain would respond “robustly” if the investigation found that Russia was responsible. “If those suspicions prove to be well founded, this government will take whatever measures are necessary to protect the lives of people in this country, their lives and their freedoms,” he said.
UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd has noted that UK will only make an accusation against Kremlin with sufficient evidence stating, “If we move to attribution then we need to make sure we have all the details of what happened along the way so that we can be absolutely clear about it.” Skripal meanwhile has told the British investigators that he fears that his family may also be at risk after these attacks.
The Russian embassy in London has stated that it is yet to receive extensive details about the case. The embassy’s press officer released a statement condemning the UK government noting, “The parliamentary debate as well as the Government stance are a testament of London's growing unpredictability as a partner in international relations, whose policy towards Russia is inconsistent and looks rather miscalculated, not least in the eyes of the Russian public.”
Our assessment is that if the Kremlin link to the attack is proven, then it would plunge relations between the West and Russia to a new low. Ties are already tense between the countries as UK has repeatedly warned Russia against interference in elections.