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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U.S. National Security Adviser: Evidence of Russian Interference in Election “Incontrovertible”

National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster said that evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is now “incontrovertible.”  McMaster was speaking at a security conference in Munich on Saturday.

Responding to a question from a Russian delegate, McMaster said that “with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now incontrovertible.”  He was speaking of Russian interference.  McMaster was referring to the announcement yesterday by the FBI’s special counsel Robert Mueller, that thirteen Russian citizens have been indicted for interfering with the U.S. presidential election.  Mueller’s indictment said that the Russians engaged in “information warfare” against the U.S.

McMaster said that he would love to work with Russia on advancing cyber security but only when Russia becomes “sincere about curtailing its sophisticated form of espionage.”

Shortly before McMaster spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressed the conference, and dismissed the recent developments as noise.  “I have no response. You can publish anything, and we see those indictments multiplying, the statements multiplying…Until we see the facts, everything else is just blabber,” Lavrov said.

President Trump long dismissed the Russian-meddling issue as a hoax.  Yesterday he acknowledged the indictments, but attested that the interference had no bearing on the results of the election.  “The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!” the President tweeted.

 

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