The nerve agent attack that took place on a former Russian military intelligence officer turned spy in the UK has resulted in a war of words between Downing Street and the Kremlin. UK Prime Minister Theresa May has expelled 23 Russian diplomats from Britain and Russia has vowed to retaliate in kind.
On March 2017, Sergei Viktorovich Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer turned spy for Britain′s intelligence services, was attacked. He and his daughter were found unconscious after falling victims to a poison attack. It was later revealed that they were attacked by a nerve agent. Skripal and his daughter, Yulia were poisoned and both were hospitalized, critically ill. In addition, three police officers who responded to the crime scene also required treatment for breathing difficulties.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that since the origin of the nerve agent is from Russia, it is highly likely that Kremlin was behind the attack. She said that the spy had been attacked by a “military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia” and called it a “brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil”.
“This attempted murder, using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town, was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.”
The nerve agent attack has been considered the first ever of its kind in Europe since World War II. The UK Prime Minister has taken a staunch stance against the attack, and has moved to expel 23 Russian diplomats from the United Kingdom.
In addition, she along with the leaders of France, Germany and the US have released a joint statement against Russia. The statement, issued by Downing Street, said: “The United Kingdom briefed thoroughly its allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the attack. We share the UK assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia's failure to address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury.”
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has also spoken about the attack individually noting, “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it, something that should never ever happen. We are taking it very seriously as, I think, are many others.”
Russia has stated that it had no role in the attack and has lashed out at the UK for initiating a “Russophobic” campaign. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the UK government noting, “Yesterday, both our and foreign mass media mentioned quite a few arguments explaining why Russia could not have any such motives. Such motives might certainly exist in the minds of those who would like to push ahead with the Russophobic campaign in all spheres of human activity without an exception." He added, “You know, this kind of conceit shows in almost all the steps London has been taking - not only in this particular case.”
Kremlin has also revealed that it would take retaliatory measures against Britain, which would be announced soon. Experts note that it will also be expelling diplomats from its soil. According to the Russian news agency Tass, Russian President Putin will himself choose the retaliatory measures. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “A final decision [on retaliatory measures] will, of course, be made by the Russian president. There is no doubt that he will choose the variant that best of all corresponds to the interests of the Russian Federation.” Peskov also said that Russia is “perplexed and does not comprehend the British leadership’s stance” and insisted the “accusations are unsubstantiated”.
The attack has also resulted in an escalated war of words between Britain and Russia. UK’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has taken a hardline stance noting that Russia should "go away and shut up". The Russian Ministry of Defence responded by calling Williamson a "vulgar old harpy". Major General Igor Konashenkov said that Williamson displayed “intellectual impotence” and added, “Long ago, Great Britain became the cosy nest not just for the world's turncoats, but also of all kinds of headquarters for producing fake scandals.”
May has noted, “We do hold Russia culpable for this brazen and despicable act, which has taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city.”
Our assessment is that ties between Russia and the UK are at an all time low. Additionally, this attack could also create tensions between Western allies and the Kremlin. There are economic and security concerns that arise from this attack, the likes of which have not taken place since World War II. Russia’s response now to Britain’s move will determine the peaceful co-existence of nations in Europe and also the world.