With a firm statement delivered to her Parliament on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May explained her decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats from the United Kingdom, a move that is reminiscent of the measures taken by former United States President Barack Obama in 2016.
The Prime Minister’s decision was made after being briefed by intelligence and law enforcement agents who investigated the mysterious poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the city of Salisbury earlier this month. Mr. Skripal is a Russian national known to have conducted espionage on behalf of the UK; he is believed to have been dosed with a nerve agent as he enjoyed an Italian meal and drinks at a restaurant and pub with his daughter; both have been hospitalized under intensive care since the attack.
A police officer who responded to reports of Skripal and his daughter being found unconscious on a park bench was also hospitalized. Prime Minister May explained that the investigation has revealed that the nerve agent Novichok, manufactured by Russian chemical warfare labs, was indiscriminately deployed in a public area to target Skripal.
UK officials demanded an explanation from Moscow concerning the attack, for this is not the first time an opponent of the Russian regime has been mysteriously attacked on British soil, but the Kremlin declined to respond within the given time frame. As a result, PM May has announced a series of measures beyond the aforementioned expulsion of 23 diplomats, many of them believed to be conducting espionage:
* High-level communications and programs with Russia have been suspended.
* Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov is no longer welcome in the UK.
* Members of the Royal Family will not attend the FIFA World Cup later this year.
* Russian property and financial assets in the UK may be frozen upon investigation.
* Scrutiny into the activities of Russian nationals who reside or travel to the UK.
* Potential revocation of the broadcasting license granted to Russia Today, an international news service.
* Calling on the international community to condemn Russia’s alleged actions and to enact similar restrictions.
* Discussing the incident at the United Nations Security Council, a move that Russia strongly opposes.
As expected, reaction by the Russian Embassy in London has been loud and critical, although Kremlin officials are willing to assist with the investigation. A sample of the nerve agent is being sent to an international organization for testing.
European Union officials have sent messages of solidarity, and the US White House reportedly supported PM May a day before she addressed Parliament; however, it should be noted that it was this same support that is believed to have prompted the dismissal of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
During an official visit to the African region, Tillerson told journalists that he believed the Kremlin was involved in the attack, a comment that US President Donald Trump, who has been reticent to draw a hard line against Russia and President Vladimir Putin, was reportedly not happy with. Tillerson actually cut his Africa tour short by one day for the purpose of returning quickly to the US, where he learned Trump had fired him almost upon landing.