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March 14, 2018

Spy poisoning: UK considers ‘full range’ of retaliation


March 14, 2018

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May has warned that Britain is considering a “full range” of retaliatory measures if it concludes that Russia was responsible for a nerve agent attack in an English city.

Options mooted in recent days include the expulsion of Russian diplomats, a retaliatory cyber attack and asset seizures of Russian nationals suspected of human rights abuses, as well as possible joint international action with the EU or NATO.

“The UK can convince EU countries to adopt sanctions against Russia, but it will be difficult,” Sam Greene, head of the Russian Institute at King’s College London, told AFP.“Opinion in Europe is already divided,” he said, stressing the need for “very careful diplomacy”.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that British threats to target Moscow with punitive sanctions over the poisoning of a former spy would not be left unanswered and said false allegations of Russia´s involvement were a provocation. Britain gave President Vladimir Putin until midnight on Tuesday to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used to strike down a former Russian double agent who passed secrets to British intelligence. Russia says it had nothing to do with the attack and will ignore the ultimatum until London hands over samples of the nerve agent used and begins to comply with its obligations under the Chemical Weapon Convention, which foresees joint investigations of such incidents. “Any threats to take ´sanctions´ against Russia will not be left without a response,” the foreign ministry said in a statement. “The British side should understand that.”

Moscow called Britain’s accusations of its involvement in the poisoning of a former double agent an attempt to “discredit” Russia and vowed to retaliate against any sanctions.“The incident is yet another dirty attempt by British authorities to discredit Russia,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that threats of sanctions “will not be left without a response.”

In the past, Britain has accused Russia of cyber interference. Britain last month said that Russia was behind the devastating “NotPetya” ransomware attack in 2017, calling it a Kremlin effort to destabilise Ukraine which spun out of control.

May suggested to parliament on Monday that the government was looking at a British version of the US “Magnitsky Act”.The legislation, passed in 2012, was designed to punish Russian officials involved in the death in custody of a lawyer Sergei Magnitsky who had denounced official corruption.

The measures would make it easier to seize the British assets of Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses.“We do want to ensure that we get the maximum possible consensus across the House on this particular issue,” May told parliament.

Super-rich Russians, including some with close links to the Kremlin, have invested heavily in the London property market and sent their children to British schools in recent years.The possibility of withdrawing British broadcasting licences for Russian state-owned news channel RT has been raised repeatedly by British lawmakers in recent days.The broadcasting regulator Ofcom has said it will “consider the implications” of May’s statement to parliament on Wednesday. Ofcom said it had a “duty to be satisfied that all broadcast licensees are fit and proper to hold a licence”.

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