As previewed last night, Theresa May has officially blamed Russia for a nerve-agent attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent, and his daughter Yulia, that led to the hospitalization of 21 people.
In a speech to the House of Commons, May fleshed out the evidence that the UK has gathered to make its determination, while insisting that actions would be taken to hold the regime accountable - raising the possibility of more sanctions against Russia.
May told lawmakers that it was "highly likely" that Russia was responsible for the attack, explaining how a known Russian nerve agent had been discovered by investigators at the scene of the attack in Salisbury. If Moscow is unequivocally proven to have masterminded the attack, May said the UK government would consider it "an unlawful use of force."
The British PM told the House of Commons that the former spy was poisoned with “military-grade nerve agent of the type developed by Russia”, according to world-leading experts at Porton Down, the government’s chemical weapons research centre.
However, instead of conclusively declaring that Russian President Vladimir Putin had authorized the attack, May said UK intelligence said there are two possibilities of the origin of this action: That the attack was ordered by the Russian state, or the Russian state lost control of these nerve agents, which were then utilized to attack Skripal.
"Russia has previously produced this agent, and the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible," May said.
She pointed out that the attack happened "against a backdrop of Russian state aggression" citing the annexation of Crimea and unrest in the Donbas region. May added that Russia has meddled in elections. "We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil," May said.
May said the British government had summoned the Russian ambassador to the Foreign Office and has given him a 36 hour ultimatum to explain how state developed nerve agent used in Salisbury, or face “extensive measures”.
Break: Theresa May gives Russian ambassador 36 hour ultimatum to explain how state developed nerve agent used in Salisbury, or face “extensive measures”.— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) March 12, 2018
Meanwhile the UK stood ready to take “much more extensive measures” to retaliate against Moscow.
“I share the impatience of this house and the country at large to bring those responsible to justice and take a full range of appropriate responses….but as a nation that believes in justice and the rule of law it’s right we proceed in the right way,” Mrs May said.
The attempted murder was not just a crime against the Skripal family but was an “indiscriminate and reckless” act against the UK, said the prime minister who also added that it fitted into a “well-established” pattern of Russian state aggression including the illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the hacking of the German parliament and Danish government as well as the murder of Alexander Litvinenko.
Quoted by the FT, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, denounced the “shocking events” in Salisbury on March 4 but said Britain should not cut off diplomatic ties with Russia. He said the government should maintain a “robust dialogue” with Moscow.
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Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin brushed aside questions about Russia's involvement, telling a BBC journalist that the UK needs to figure this out for itself before approaching Russia with any accusations, per RT.
“Sort this out for yourselves first, then come talk to us,” said the Russian president, when asked about the case by a BBC journalist during a visit to the southern region of Krasnodar. Putin then emphasized that he was in the region to deal with matters related to agriculture, not international espionage.
Following the official accusation by Theresa May, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters that "this is a circus act in the British Parliament." Dismissing the allegations as "fairy tales," she said, "It’s just another political-information campaign based on a provocation."
Echoing Zakharova, a member of the Russian Senate’s international affairs committee said that Russia had no reason to kill Skripal.
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Despite May's rhetoric, it's possible that the UK response will be more bark than bite: As Bloomberg points out, British authorities took only modest countermeasures in 2006, when Russian agents poisoned a former MI6 informant with a rare and toxic isotope, polonium 210.
May explained that Russia’s ambassador to the U.K. has been summoned to explain how a Russian nerve agent turned up in Salisbury, the English city where Skripal and his adult daughter were sickened. Later, she said she would return to the House of Commons to review the options for responding to the attack - which is expected to include sanctions.