Earlier this week, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson threatened to boycott the 2018 World Cup if evidence emerges that the poisoning of former Russian double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia Skripal was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. He added that Russia had become a "malign and disruptive force" and also accused it of interfering in elections.
And just yesterday, scientists at the UK Ministry of Defense said the attack on Skripal is being treated as a "major incident" involving "attempted murder by administration of a nerve agent." Scientists say they've identified the nerve agent.
However, while UK lawmakers are already howling about Russia's involvement, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, hardly a Russophile, cautioned that MPs and the public shouldn't jump to conclusions; instead, they should wait until a clearer picture of the evidence emerges, adding that she is "confident" police and security services will identify those responsible, according to Bloomberg.
"When we have all the evidence of what took place we will, if it’s appropriate, attribute it to somebody. If that is the case we will have a plan in place," Rudd told BBC Radio 4’s Today show. "We are absolutely robust about crimes committed on these streets, in the U.K. There’s nothing soft about the U.K.’s response to any sort of state activity in this country."
Skripal and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench Sunday at a shopping center in Salisbury, southwest of London. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters in London late on Wednesday that the two were "targeted specifically." A police officer who responded to the scene was also hospitalized, though his condition is far more optimistic.
Rudd said UK security services are working constantly behind the scenes to counter threats to the UK.
"You may not hear about it all - but when we do see there is action to be taken, we will take it," Rudd said. "There is activity the police, the security services take day in day out that protects us, that keeps us safe that we don’t hear about every day, partly because of their success at doing the job they do so bravely and so well."
Meanwhile, Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, hinted that "there are not 101 likely offenders" - a slight at Russia - adding "this is an outrageous affront to our security in Europe and our way of life."
UK officials are treating the attack as a "state-sponsored" assassination attempt, though there are alternative theories, as Bloomberg points out (though it doesn't provide any details).
Skripal was convicted in 2006 of passing the identities of Russian agents in Europe to the Mi6, the UK's Secret Intelligence Service. Russian authorities said payments totaling $100,000 were made into a Spanish bank account in return for his work for the UK.
Skripal was sentenced to 13 years in jail, but in 2010 was pardoned and sent to Britain, in a swap deal involving agents who had been arrested in the US. His case bears uncomfortable echoes of the poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko, another former Russian spy who died in 2006 after his tea was spiked with radioactive polonium.