Russia Expels 23 British Diplomats in Response to England’s Actions

Russia has expelled twenty-three British diplomats in retaliation for the expulsion of twenty-three Russian diplomats by Great Britain, last week over the alleged assassination attempt of a Russian ex-pat living in England since 2010.

“Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said. “The attempted assassination of two people on British soil for which there is no alternative conclusion other than the Russian state was culpable. It is Russia that is in flagrant breach of international law and the chemical weapons convention.”

May explained that the disagreement does not extend to the Russian people. “Many Russians have made this country their home,” she said. “And those who abide by our laws and make a contribution to our society will always be welcome. But we will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government.”

Sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London on March 4. Authorities determined that the Skripals are suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent” identified as Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

The Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition. Sgt. Nick Baily, a British Detective, also remains hospitalized. His condition has been described as serious but stable. Bailey visited Skripal’s home at the outset of the investigation.

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the countries and has been living in Salisbury since. His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.

In addition to the expulsion of the diplomats, Russia also announced it was closing the British Consulate in St. Petersburg and the British Council in Russia, which promotes cultural exchanges between the two nations. The closing of the council is believed to be especially damaging because it encourages one-to-one relationships that serves young people.

Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it had called British ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow to the ministry and informed him that the twenty-three diplomats were now “persona non grata” and had one week to leave.

Bristow said he spent about ten minutes in the foreign ministry where he was handed Russia’s responses. “We gave Russia the opportunity to explain how the material got to Salisbury,” Bristow said to reporters outside the Ministry, “and we asked Russia to declare that material that had that capability, to the organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Russia did neither, therefore we announced certain steps. Russia, today, has informed me of steps that Russia would be taking in response to that.”

“We will always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, and our allies and our values against an attack of this sort, which is an attack not only on the United Kingdom but upon the international rules based system on which all countries, including Russia, depend for their safety and security,” he added.

Russia has denied any involvement in the Skripal case and says the actions announced were in response to what it called the UK’s “provocative actions and unfounded accusations” in the case.

The U.K., along with allies France, Germany, and the U.S. issued a joint statement on Thursday condemning the attacks and calling on Russia to answer all questions raised by it.

“We share the United Kingdom’s assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia’s responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury.”

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U.S. Treasury levels New Sanctions Against Russia

The U.S. announced new economic sanctions against Russia this morning for their role in meddling in the 2016 presidential election as well as other acts of aggression having to do with cyber-espionage.

“Treasury sanctions Russian cyber actors for interference with the 2016 U.S. Elections and malicious cyber-attacks. CAATSA sanctions are part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia,” the Treasury Department wrote on its official Twitter account this morning.

The sanctions target thirteen individuals and entities indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller last month for their role in the interference campaign into the 2016 U.S. presidential election.  Additional sanctions were also placed on the FSB – Russia’s security service and successor to the KGB, the GRU – Russia’s military intelligence service, and six officers of the GRU.

Sanctions were levelled against the FSB for, among other acts of hostility, using cyber tools to target Russian journalists and political opposition leaders, to target foreign government officials, including military and White House personnel, and for their involvement in the 2014 hacking of Yahoo!, which compromised millions of accounts.

The GRU was sanctioned for their role in the 2016 presidential election interference, as well as for a 2017 cyber-attack that scrambled file systems of computers all over the world and caused billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia and the U.S.  The NotPetya attack, as it’s come to be known, disrupted global shipping, trade and even medicine production.  Several hospitals in the U.S. were unable to create electronic medical records for their patients for more than a week because of the strike.

Attribution of the cyber-attack was made to the Russian government earlier this year by both the U.S. and British governments.

The U.S. sanctions come at a time of heightened tensions between Moscow and the West.  British Prime Minister Theresa May announced a series of measures yesterday aimed at degrading Russian espionage networks in the U.S.  The moves come in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack carried out on a former Russian security official who has been living in England since 2010.

This morning, the leaders of France, Germany, the U.K. as well as the U.S., issued a joint statement criticizing Russia for the attack and warning the Russian government about its actions.

“This use of a military-grade nerve agent, of a type developed by Russia, constitutes the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War. It is an assault on the United Kingdom’s sovereignty and any such use by a state party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law. It threatens the security of us all,” the statement read.

“Our concerns are also heightened against the background of a pattern of earlier irresponsible Russian behavior. We call on Russia to live up to its responsibilities as a member of the U.N. Security Council to uphold international peace and security,” it added.

Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) welcomed the sanctions-announcement but questioned what their effectiveness will ultimately be.

“Russia is on course to do what Russia is going to do. I think it’s good that we’re doing it … but I think they are going to continue to attempt to create the kind of disharmony that they have been good at doing,” Corker said to reporters today.

Others however, saw it as a welcome step, and wanted to see President Trump’s rhetoric on Russia become even sharper.

“I think this is a good step. It is not fully sufficient,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said today.  “What continues to concern to me is that while you had the administration act, there continues to be a reluctance by the president himself to call out Russia as a bad actor.”

 

 

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Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley Makes Clear U.S. Blames Russia for Chemical Poisoning in Great Britain

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley blamed Russia for a chemical attack carried out against a Russian ex-patriot living in England since 2010 and said that U.S. is standing in unity with its long-time ally, Great Britain.

“Let me make one thing clear from the start, the United States stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain. We believe that Russia is responsible for the attack on two people in the United Kingdom using a military grade nerve agent,” Haley said yesterday at an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council.

“If we don’t take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used.  They could be used here in New York or in cities of any country that sits on this council,” she added.

Great Britain accuses Russia of poisoning 66-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia.  The two were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London on March 4.  They have been hospitalized with their conditions described as critical since.

Authorities have determined that the Skripals are suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent.”  That nerve agent has been identified as Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

A third victim, a British Detective that visited Skripal’s home at the outset of the investigation has also been hospitalized.  His condition has been described as serious.

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain in 2006.  He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the nations and had been living in Salisbury ever since.  His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a strongly-worded statement on Monday giving the Russian government two days to explain whether the attack was direct action by the Russian government or whether Russia had lost control of its stockpiles of chemical weapons.

“Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” she said.

Russia denied any involvement in the incident and said it would not respond officially unless given a sample of the suspected nerve agent to inspect.

May announced a series of retaliatory measures, meant to degrade Russian espionage networks in the U.K., including the expulsion of twenty-three Russian diplomats from England, the freezing of Russian assets and measures that could not “be shared publicly for reasons of National Security,” something understood to indicate cyber-warfare by observers.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement, called May’s announcement an “unprecedented, flagrant provocation that undermines the foundations of normal dialogue between our countries.”

“Obviously, by investigating this incident in a unilateral, non-transparent way, the British Government is again seeking to launch a groundless anti-Russian campaign.  Needless to say, our response measures will not be long in coming,” they added.

The U.S. had previously avoided declarative statements about Russia’s involvement in Skirpal’s poisoning, but the White House has since issued more forceful statements about Russia’s involvement and the U.S. commitment to its ally.

“The United States stands in solidarity with its closest ally, the United Kingdom,” a White House statement read.

“This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behavior in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes,” it continued.

 

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British PM May Expels 23 Russian Diplomats in Biggest Diplomatic Row Since Cold War

The United Kingdom responded forcefully to a suspected chemical attack carried out against a Russian ex-patriot living in England since 2010, today.  Sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London on March 4.  They have been hospitalized with their conditions described as critical since.

A third victim, a British Detective that visited Skripal’s home at the outset of the investigation has also been hospitalized.  His condition has been described as serious.

Authorities have determined that the Skripals are suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent.”  That nerve agent has been identified as Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May delivered an unusually strongly-worded statement on Monday giving the Russian government until midnight on Tuesday to explain whether the attack was direct action by the Russian government or whether Russia had lost control of its stockpiles of chemical weapons.

“Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” May said.

The Russian government said it would not respond to the U.K.’s demands unless given a sample of the suspected nerve agent to inspect.  Asked by a BBC journalist about the accusations, Russian President Vladimir Putin said tersely this week, “Get to the bottom of [things] there, and then we will discuss this with you.”

Yesterday, Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Committee for Foreign Affairs in Russian Parliament called the accusations “maniacal” in a post on Facebook, saying England had made a habit of blaming Russia for “mortal sins.”

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain in 2006.  He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the nations and had been living in Salisbury ever since.  His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.

In comments today from Britain’s House of Commons, May announced a series of retaliatory measures, meant to degrade Russian espionage networks in the U.K.  May said that “urgent work [would begin] to develop new powers to tackle all forms of hostile state activity and to ensure that those seeking to carry out such activity cannot enter the UK”.

She announced the expulsion of twenty-three Russian diplomats whom May did not name but described as “undeclared intelligence officers.”  The individuals have been given one week to leave.  She also rescinded an invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to visit England and said the British Royal Family would boycott the upcoming FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament that will be hosted by Russia this spring.

Russian state assets will be frozen “wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of U.K. nationals or residents,” she said, and there will be tougher scrutiny at the border of those suspected of hostile state activity, powers currently reserved for suspected terrorists.

May also announced measures that “cannot be shared publicly for reasons of National Security” something understood to indicate cyber-warfare by observers.

Russia has again vehemently denied involvement in the Skripal attack.  “Moscow’s stance is well-known, London was told about Moscow’s position through diplomatic channels: Moscow has no connection to the incident that took place in the United Kingdom,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

“Moscow won’t accept absolutely unfounded accusations against it, which are not substantiated by any evidence, and won’t accept the language of ultimatum,” he added.

May said it was right to give Russia time to respond to the accusations but that “their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events. They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent.”

“Instead they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance,” she said.

May said she had been in touch with close allies in Europe, as well as the U.S., and that it was agreed “to co-operate closely in responding to this barbaric act and to co-ordinate…efforts to stand up for the rules based international order which Russia seeks to undermine.”

 

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In Makings of International Incident, British Prime Minister Theresa May Accuses Russia of Attempted Assassination of Ex-Pat on British Soil

British Prime Minister Theresa May says her government has concluded that the substance used to poison a Russian ex-patriot on British soil last week was a nerve agent stockpiled in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, leading her to accuse the Russian government of the attack.

May said she had summoned the Russian ambassador to the UK Foreign Office to explain whether the attack was direct action by the Russian government or whether Russia had lost control of its stockpiles of chemical weapons.

In an unusually strong language May demanded a response from the Russian government by the end of Tuesday and said, “Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”

Whatever the response, this episode is likely heighten tensions between the two nations to levels not seen in decades.

Sixty-six-year-old former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia have been hospitalized since March 4, when the two were found slumped, unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London.

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted in Russia of spying for the British in 2006.  He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the nations and had been living in Salisbury ever since.  His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.

Authorities said the two were suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent.”  Skripal has been described as being “seriously ill” and authorities say his condition has worsened since being admitted to hospital.

A third victim, a British Detective that visited Skripal’s home at the outset of the investigation has also been hospitalized.  His condition has been described as serious.  Police in England said they were treating the case as attempted murder.

The nerve agent authorities believe was used in the attack is Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

“Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal,” May said.

“This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil,” May added.

This would not be the first time a former Russian security agent was attacked on British soil.

In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, fell critically ill after allegedly drinking a cup of poisoned tea.  He died roughly one month later in University College Hospital in London after his condition had gotten progressively worse.

Litvinenko had been an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and accused him of orchestrating terrorist attacks within Russia to use as pretext for the invasion of Chechnya.  He sought and was granted asylum in the UK in 2000.

Authorities would later determine the cause of Litvinenko’s death to be a deadly toxin known as radioactive polonium-210.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders called the attack “reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible,” today but refused to blame Russia for it, saying that UK authorities were still working their way through their investigation and response.

“We stand with our ally and fully support them and are ready if we can be of any assistance to them,” she said.

 

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Former Russian Spy, Daughter, Believed to Been Poisoned with Deadly Nerve Agent in England

A 66-year-old former Russian spy and his 33-year-old daughter have been hospitalized with a serious illness in England.  Sergey Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, have been hospitalized in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London, since Sunday, when they were found slumped, unconscious on a bench.

Police in England are now treating the case as attempted murder.

Authorities say the two are suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent.”  Skripal’s being described as being “seriously ill;” authorities say his condition has worsened since being admitted to hospital.

A third victim, a British Detective that visited Skripal’s home at the outset of the investigation has also been hospitalized.  His condition has been described as serious.

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted in Russia of spying for the British in 2006.  He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the two nations, and had been living in Salisbury ever since.

Scientists have reportedly identified the nerve agent used but have declined to reveal what it is.

Skripal is not the first former Russian spy to be poisoned on British soil.  In 2006, Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, fell critically ill after allegedly drinking a cup of poisoned tea.  He died roughly one month later in University College Hospital in London after, his condition had gotten progressively worse.

Authorities would later determine the cause of death to be radioactive polonium-210, one of deadliest toxins known to man.

Litvinenko was arrested in 1998 after exposing a plot to assassinate Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky.  He would write a book upon his release nine months later that detailed a false-flag operation run by the FSB in which apartment buildings were bombed in three Russian cities and Chechen separatists were blamed.  They were used as pretext for the invasion of Chechnya in 1999.

Litvinenko sought was granted asylum in the UK in 2000.  He had also been granted British citizenship in 2006.  Upon his death it was revealed that he had been drawing a salary from MI6, the British secret service.

It is believed Litvinenko was poisoned while drinking tea at a London hotel with two former Russian agents.  It was later learned that he had been preparing to fly to Spain to investigate Russian mafia links there, and was also investigating the death of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was shot in an elevator in her Moscow apartment building a month before Litvinenko was allegedly poisoned.

Politkovskaya had gained renown for exposing alleged abuses in Chechnya by Russian forces.

The Russian government has not commented on Skripal’s hospitalization except to say that it is “ready to consider” assisting in any investigation.  “Whether it’s [about] poisoning of some British subjects, whether it’s rumors about interference in the U.S. election campaign,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed an “appropriate” response if Russia is found to be responsible for the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter.

 

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