UK Retaliates for Russian Nerve Agent Attack

Theresa May has expelled 23 Russian diplomats and convened the North Atlantic Council.

Theresa May has struck back.

BBC (“UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats“):

The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used on a former spy in Salisbury, the PM says.

Theresa May said the diplomats, who have a week to leave, were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”.

She also revoked an invitation to Russia’s foreign minister, and said the Royal Family would not attend the Fifa World Cup later this year.

Russia denies being involved in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal.

It refused to meet Mrs May’s midnight deadline to co-operate in the case, prompting Mrs May to announce a series of measures intended to send a “clear message” to Russia.

Among them are plans to:

  • Expel 23 diplomats – who have one week to leave
  • Increase checks on private flights, customs and freight
  • Freeze Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents
  • Ministers and Royal Family to boycott the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year
  • Suspend all planned high level bi-lateral contacts between the UK and Russia

Mrs May told MPs that Russia had provided “no explanation” as to how the nerve agent came to be used in the UK, describing Moscow’s response as one of “sarcasm, contempt and defiance”.

The PM, who was earlier briefed by senior intelligence chiefs in Downing Street, added there was “no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable” for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter.

Julia Ioffe, who previously covered Russia for The New Yorker and Foreign Policy, tweets, “On vacation with three other former Moscow correspondents. Four jaws dropped at the news of May’s retaliatory measures. This is, as they say, a BFD.”

Deborah Haynes, defense editor for the Times of London, tweets, “North Atlantic Council of @NATO will meet for a consecutive day tomorrow, PM says. This is a clear indication of gravity with which allies are treating Russia’s attack on UK using chemical weapons.”

As I noted yesterday, the combination of the Russian veto at the UN Security Council and President Trump’s constant kowtowing to Vladimir Putin likely preclude very strong measures at the international level. Still, I’d expect at the very least other European nations to back May’s play here. In a more normal administration, I’d expect the United States to do likewise.

This event isn’t the start of World War III. Nor should it be. But it’s past time for pretending Putin’s Russia is a member in good standing of the international community. Sadly, the United States is not going to be leading the effort to rein them in.

UPDATE: Former Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, our NATO ambassador, tweeted out a link to this statement by the North Atlantic Council:

The UK confirmed the use of a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia and briefed Allies that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible. The UK also confirmed that this was an indiscriminate and reckless attack against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk.

Allies expressed deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO’s foundation. Allies expressed solidarity with the UK, offered their support in the conduct of the ongoing investigation, and called on Russia to address the UK’s questions including providing full and complete disclosure of the Novichok programme to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Allies agreed that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements.

Since its entry into force in 1997, the Chemical Weapons Convention has become one of the pillars of the global non-proliferation regime. The Convention prohibits the development, transfer and use of chemical weapons. States Parties to the Convention take on a duty to uphold and enforce its fundamental tenets. States Parties commit not to develop, produce or otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, nor to transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to anyone. States Parties also undertake not to engage in any military preparations to use chemical weapons, nor to commit to assist, encourage or induce anyone to engage in prohibited activity.

NATO has repeatedly condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and called on those responsible to be held to account. NATO regards any use of chemical weapons as a threat to international peace and security.

Granting that this is incredibly tepid, we’ll see if she survives in her post.

FILED UNDER: Europe, World Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    Good.




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  2. Kathy says:

    I see no mystery in how the chemical agent got to the UK. The question then is whether Britain will reserve the right to search and/or scan Russian diplomatic luggage and other items for chemical and other weapons.




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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    I see no mystery in how the chemical agent got to the UK.

    May’s initial gambit was that, since this was an agent unique to the Russian military,

    there are therefore only two plausible explanations for what happened in Salisbury on the 4th of March.

    Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country.

    Or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.

    This afternoon my Rt. Hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has summoned the Russian Ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and asked him to explain which of these two possibilities it is

    The Russians basically laughed off the question so now she’s following up.




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  4. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner: My implications is the Russians took it into Britain via the diplomatic bag.




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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: That would be my guess as well.




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  6. teve tory says:

    GOP support for Trump: 87% (Gallup, last week)
    GOP support for FBI: 28% (Quinnipiac, Feb.)




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  7. Tyrell says:

    Those steps might be okay but I have a better idea. A blockade of the Russian Naval ports in the Baltic for a few months. That will change their attitude.




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  8. Xenos says:

    There has to be serious payback for this.

    Something that will permanently hurt the regime, and permanently hurt Russia as a whole.




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  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Tyrell: Yeah, right. //s




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  10. Kathy says:

    @Tyrell: I don’t think this justifies a repeat of The War of Jenkins’ Ear. Certainly not against a nuclear power.




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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The one thing Europe could do that really would hut the Russians is boycott their oil and gas. Of course that has the drawback of being just a little suicidal but, what the hey?




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  12. grumpy realist says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: One reason why we need to go whole hog forwards in a) increasing energy efficiency b) more renewables (hell, put wind blades all over the Midwest), and c) nuclear power plants (and more money pumped into fusion research, please.)

    Aside from geopolitical considerations. it’s absolutely stupid to take all those lovely long high molecular-weight hydrocarbon molecules and….burn them up. When they could be used as feedstock into plastics and other, more useful materials. The main reason we stick with oil is a) energy density is ridiculously high, and b) material is very easy to handle and transport.




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  13. teve tory says:

    @Xenos: Impeach Trump?




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  14. teve tory says:

    @grumpy realist:

    @OzarkHillbilly: One reason why we need to go whole hog forwards in a) increasing energy efficiency b) more renewables (hell, put wind blades all over the Midwest), and c) nuclear power plants (and more money pumped into fusion research, please.)

    Aside from geopolitical considerations. it’s absolutely stupid to take all those lovely long high molecular-weight hydrocarbon molecules and….burn them up. When they could be used as feedstock into plastics and other, more useful materials. The main reason we stick with oil is a) energy density is ridiculously high, and b) material is very easy to handle and transport.

    Is ITER or any of the other projects getting anywhere? I haven’t paid much attention to fusion because in the 2 decades I did, it seemed to be treading (heavy) water. Seems like I heard of some recent news from MIT about stronger magnets, but I kinda tuned out.




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  15. gVOR08 says:

    @teve tory: I saw the same story. There is a new material that is superconducting at higher temperatures and is supposed to allow a much smaller reactor than ITER. They were talking about 35 years to develop it. At this point I feel safe sticking with the usual prediction – fusion is the energy source of the future, and always will be.




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  16. gVOR08 says:

    An exercise for the reader – compare and contrast the likely response from W. Bush or Obama in support of our British ally with the response by Trump.




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  17. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    The main reason we stick with oil is a) energy density is ridiculously high

    Yeah, that’s the real pisser. The energy density of oil is roughly an order of magnitude better than the next best thing, AND it’s light enough that you can use it to power the small engines that make cars and airplanes possible. There’s a reason there are no coal-burning airplanes.

    The only fuel that comes close to oil in energy density is uranium, but even if you lick the waste problem and the safety problems you still can’t power a plane with it.

    In the end, the only long-term answer is sunlight — barely break-even in efficiency, but there’s just so damn much of it available that it could power everything… except planes. (And rockets, but that’s a whole different level of problem.)




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  18. DrDaveT says:

    @teve tory:

    Is ITER or any of the other projects getting anywhere?

    I’ve been following ITER* for about a decade now, after using it as a “how not to do a cost estimate” example for some classes I taught at DOE. To me, ITER falls in the same category as the National Ignition Facility, or the Airborne Laser program in DoD — extraordinarily cool technology that has essentially zero chance of achieving its intended purpose. It was supposed to be a demonstration prototype of commercially-viable fusion technology, achieving ignition and putting out more energy than was used to get it going. Even the true believers now say that the demonstration prototype will be the next tokamak** after ITER, that they will know how to build based on what they learn from ITER…

    I do recommend their website, though. The video of how the thing is to be assembled is just totally insane.

    *Originally, this stood for “International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor”. This name was clearly chosen by a scientist with Asperger’s Syndrome, because the reaction from the general population of Europe (where ITER is being built) was about what you would expect. The claim now is that the name is from the Latin /iter/, meaning “moving forward”, as in the English word ‘iterate’, or the final words of the Mass, “ite missa est”.

    **A lot of the top fusion thinkers have decided that tokamaks aren’t the answer; there’s no way to make the magnetic containment stable. They favor something like a stellarator, that keeps the plasma moving in a sort of braided path that seems to be more controllable.




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  19. Matt says:

    @DrDaveT: You can power a plane with Uranium. The US developed the concept in the 70s but dropped it due to radiation shielding issues. If you didn’t care about irradiating the crew or as you said you “licked the shielding problem” then it is quite possible.

    Putin has claimed that Russia has nuclear powered nuclear tipped cruise missiles. I’m pretty sure Russia did some research into nuke powered bombers too.




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