Barely a week after UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd warned the country not to "jump to conclusions" about who was behind a nerve gas attack on a former Russian double-agent, it appears Prime Minister Theresa May is about to do just that...
In a late-breaking report, the Sun confirmed that May is preparing to name Russia as the perpetrator of the attack on Sergei Skripal, a spy who was turned over to the UK in 2010 as part of a swap with Russia, after receiving confirmation from her intelligence chiefs.
An intelligence assessment explaining the findings is reportedly being delivered overnight, and will be on May's desk in the morning. The attack, which occurred at a shopping center in a quiet suburban area, led to the hospitalization of 21 people, and left Skripal, his daughter Yulia and a local officer who responded to the scene in critical - but stable - condition.
The "tell" - as it were - was the presence of certain chemicals which are believed to have been developed in a Russian laboratory. The announcement is expected to take place at 11 am during a meeting of May's National Security Council. A formal charge against Moscow could be unveiled before the House of Commons could as early as this afternoon. May might even go as far as blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin personally for ordering the hit.
In their report to Mrs May, The Sun has learned that MI5 and MI6 chiefs will cite the very rare substance used on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia as key evidence of the Kremlin’s involvement.
It is believed to have been developed in the SVR Russian foreign spy service’s notorious Yasenevo laboratory.
Mrs May will then summon an emergency meeting of her National Security Council at 11 am to decide on the scale of Britain’s retaliation.
The result of the finding could be more economic sanctions against Russia (which is still facing sanctions tied to the annexation of Crimea).
However, UK ministers are still undecided on exactly how and when to retaliate.
A "full spectrum" package of expulsions and economic sanctions has been drawn up, along with a plea for international support for them.
Of course, by blaming Russia for the attack, May be inadvertently doing Putin a favor. With Russian elections set for next weekend, blaming Russia after such a short investigation could bolster Putin's claims that Western powers are actively conspiring against him. Some have speculated that Russia could've planned the attack for exactly this purpose, while others have pointed out that it bears some hallmarks of a false flag attack intended to frame Russia.
Given the recent criticism that May is being "soft" on Russia, the timing of the announcement also bears some hallmarks of a purely political decision meant to strengthen May's hand.
But it is feared that a strong reaction ahead of Russia’s presidential elections next Sunday may play into Putin’s hands.
It is suspected that the Russian ruler sanctioned the brazen nerve agent attack simply to goad Britain into a reaction that he can strike back against and look like a strongman standing up to the West to voters.
Former British Ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton said yesterday: “The more Putin can point to Western hostility and aggression, the more he rallies the Russian people around him”.
Sir Tony added: “Russia is number one on a list of suspects that doesn’t include a number two”.
In a hint of action to come, the Chancellor said: “If there were to be an involvement of a foreign state, then obviously that would be very serious indeed and the government would respond appropriately.
Philip Hammond also told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that Britain will not be humiliated by the attack, that breaks every rule in the international book.
He added: “The vast resources that have been deployed and the high level assets that we have been able to use show that nobody is laughing at us.
“This is a very serious investigation. Let’s see where it leads us.”
Mrs May came under mounting pressure last night from campaigners and her own MPs to hit back at Russia.
So, once again, a Western power is blaming Russia for an attack, citing an obscure piece of Russian law which declares that foreign assassinations must be approved by the Russian president. That, and some chemical markers that purport to trace back to a Russian lab. Whether or not May decides to pursue sanctions, one thing is clear: Putin's words from an address he made to Parliament earlier this month - where he unveiled a new nuclear weapon capable of bypassing NATO missile defenses - are resonating more and more.