Boris Johnson to Become Next UK Prime Minister

The United Kingdom has a new prime minister as Boris Johnson became the leader of the country’s governing Conservative Party. He defeated Conservative rival Jeremy Hunt by winning two-thirds of roughly 160,000 party votes across the country today.

He will officially become prime minister tomorrow once Queen Elizabeth II formally asks him to form a government.

Britain’s former prime minister, Theresa May, announced she would be stepping down in May after failing to come to a deal with the European Union on the UK’s exit from that body. Finalizing a Brexit deal is one of Johnson’s biggest mandates.

“I say to all the doubters: ‘Dude, we are going to energize the country, we are going to get Brexit done,’” Johnson said in his acceptance speech.

President Trump tweeted congratulations to Johnson this morning and expressed optimism for the job the former London mayor will do. “Congratulations to Boris Johnson on becoming the new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He will be great!” the President wrote on Twitter.

Photo by Andrew Parsons via Flickr

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Theresa May Steps Down Amid Failure to Find Brexit Agreement

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced her resignation today, telling supporters that it was with “deep regret” that she couldn’t deliver a Brexit deal.

May said she had done everything she could to convince British Parliament to support a withdrawal deal she had crafted with the European Union but that now it was in the “best interests of the country for a new prime minister to lead that effort.”

Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, citing more control over economic and immigration issues as primary reasons. It has been negotiating with remaining countries on trade, immigration and other issues since. Approval of a replacement agreement has proved elusive, however.

May has offered two deals so far that have been soundly defeated in British Parliament. She has also asked for, and received, two delays in the Brexit effective date while a deal is being negotiated.

Britain’s membership in the EU will expire if no deal is reached by the deadline. A new agreement must be ratified by the both the British and European Parliaments in order to go into effect. The current date for England to officially depart the European Union is October 31, 2019.

May will step down on June 7. The process to find her replacement will begin the following week.

Reached for comment, President Donald Trump expressed sympathy for May and her predicament. “I feel badly for Theresa. I like her very much,” the President said. “She’s a good woman. She worked very hard. She’s very strong.”

Photo by Kuhlmann/MSC via Wikimedia Commons

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British Prime Minister May Asks for Second Brexit Delay

British Prime Minister Theresa May has asked the European Union for a delay for the Britain’s exit from the coalition. It is the second time she has done so.

May is asking for the exit date to be pushed back to June 30. It had been April 12. Finding a new deal on trade, immigration and other issues between the UK and the EU has proved elusive for the Prime Minister. Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, citing more control over economic and immigration issues as the primary reasons.

European Council President Donald Tusk has offered the UK a one-year extension to the exit date. Under that proposal the exit date would be March 31, 2020.

May has offered two Brexit deals so far that have been soundly defeated in British Parliament. She has also offered to resign if her deal is passed.

Britain’s membership in the EU will still expire if no deal is reached by the deadline. A new agreement must be ratified by the both the British and European Parliaments in order to go into effect.

Photo by Raul Mee (EU2017EE) via Flickr

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Two Suspects Named in British Citizen Nerve Agent Attack

The U.K. has formally charged two Russian nationals with the poisoning of a Russian ex-pat living in England along with his daughter. Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned in early March. It is believed that a nerve agent, Novichok, was used in the attack. Novichok is a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

Sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found slumped, unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London on March 4. They were both hospitalized for weeks after falling gravely ill. Both have survived.

British Detective, Nick Bailey, who visited the Skripal home at the outset of the investigation was also hospitalized. He would also recover.

The British government now says it has “sufficient evidence” to charge Russian citizens in connection to the attack. The citizens were identified by the Crown Prosecution Service as Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov. Both men are believed to be in Russia at the moment.

“Prosecutors from CPS Counter Terrorism Division have considered the evidence and have concluded there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and it is clearly in the public interest to charge Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov … with conspiracy to murder Sergei Skripal and the attempted murder of Skripal, his daughter Yulia, and police officer Nick Bailey,” a statement issued by CPS read.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the U.K. believes both suspects to be officers of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU.

“The GRU is a highly disciplined organization with a well-established chain of command, so this was not a rogue operation, it was almost certainly also approved outside the GRU at a senior level of the Russian state,” May told the House of Commons.

Russia has long denied the charges and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova last week dismissed the latest claims. “A link with Russia is being alleged. The names published in the media, like the photos, do not tell us anything,” she said.

Zakharova challenged British authorities “to move from public accusations and information manipulation to practical cooperation through law enforcement agencies” and to work with Moscow on the investigation. “The investigation of such serious crimes – which the UK side has repeatedly alleged – requires the most careful work, scrupulous analysis of data and close cooperation,” she said.

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.

The incident touched off a major international incident where fourteen European nations along with the U.S. expelled a total of 151 Russian diplomats. Russia responded by expelling dozens of diplomats, including sixty from the U.S.

British authorities also announced the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury has been linked to the June 30 poisoning of Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowly, a couple from nearby Amesbury, England. Sturgess succumbed to the poisoning, passing away on July 8 as a result of the exposure.

Rowly told authorities that he found a box of perfume in a charity bin near his home.

“Inside the box was a bottle and applicator. He tried to put the two parts together at his home address on Saturday, 30 June, and in doing so got some of the contents on himself. He said Dawn had applied some of the substance to her wrists before feeling unwell, “Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, National Lead for Counter Terrorism Policing said.

British authorities said they were not asking Russia for extradition of the two suspects as Russia notoriously does not extradite any of its nationals. However prosecutors have obtained a European Arrest Warrant and are looking to circulate Interpol Red Notices.

“Should either of these individuals ever again travel outside Russia, we will take every possible step to detain them, to extradite them and to bring them to face justice here in the United Kingdom,” May said.

Photo by British Government

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Britain Reportedly Identifies Suspects in Skripal Poisoning

British authorities claim to have identified suspects in the poisoning case of an ex-Russian intelligence officer and his daughter. The suspects are reportedly in Russia.

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

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.

The victims were said to be suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent.” The agent authorities believe was used in the attack is Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s. It is believed the nerve agent was smeared on the door handle of the Skripal home in Salisbury.

Yulia was released from the hospital on April 10. A third victim, British Detective Nick Bailey who fell ill after visiting the Skripal home at the outset of the investigation, has also since been released. Sergey is said to be recovering more slowly than Yulia although his overall prognosis has improved. Doctors say he will be discharged “in due course.”

The U.K. government accuses Russia of perpetrating the attack. The Kremlin has denied any involvement and calls the England’s accusations a “provocation.”

“Persons of interest” as English authorities call them have been identified by counter-terrorism agencies. It’s as of yet unclear who these suspects are but there are reports that flight-passenger lists have offered clues to U.K. authorities.

The incident has caused relations between Russia and Great Britain to reach their lowest point since the end of the Cold War. Last month England expelled twenty-three Russian diplomats and froze Russian assets in the country. Russia responded in-kind by expelling twenty-three British diplomats and closing the British Consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Photo: Yulia Skripal via Facebook

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Russia Expels 60 U.S. Diplomats, Says Will Expel Others in Response to Expulsions from EU Nations as Well

Russia has announced the expulsion of sixty American diplomats in response to a similar measure announced by the U.S. earlier this week. The Russian Foreign Ministry also announced the closing of the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg, Russia.

“US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman has been summoned to our ministry, where my deputy Sergei Ryabkov is briefing him on the tit-for-tat steps against the US,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said today. “They include the expulsion of the same number of diplomats and our decision to withdraw consent to the work of the Consulate General in St. Petersburg.”

The Trump administration announced Monday the expulsion of sixty Russian diplomats from the U.S. Twelve of them were stationed at the United Nations in New York and forty-eight were stationed at the Russian embassy in Washington D.C. The U.S. also announced that was closing the Russian consulate in Seattle due to its proximity to a U.S. submarine base as well as Boeing headquarters.

Senior administration officials assert that the Russian officials designated for expulsion are intelligence personnel “being cloaked by diplomatic positions here in the US.” The U.S. considers them “aggressive collection personnel.” The expulsions will leave forty Russians in the U.S. by the administration’s estimates, but the fewer number will make it easier for the FBI to track, they say.

The expulsions are in response to the alleged poisoning of a Russian ex-patriot, and his daughter, now living in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London, earlier this month. Authorities determined that the two were suffering from exposure to a nerve agent. That nerve agent, Novichok, is a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

The expulsions were part of a larger coordinated expulsion of fourteen European Union nations. In all, 151 Russian diplomats were expelled this week. Russia has vowed to expel the same number of diplomats from Russia from the respective nations in reciprocal measures.

“For the first time ever, a precedent [arises] in international relations of a collective act of punishment of a country without proving any guilt on its part,” Ambassador Alexander Lukashevich, who represents Russia at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said today. “This is a large-scale provocation.”

Sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia have remained hospitalized since March 4. Skripal’s condition is listed as critical but stable condition while Yulia’s condition is said to be “improving rapidly.” She is no longer listed in critical condition and is said to be conscious and talking authorities say.

Skripal is a former Russian intelligence officer convicted of spying for Britain in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a spy swap between the nations and had since been granted British citizenship.

Russia has vehemently denied any involvement in the poisoning and has suggesting that the U.K. may have poisoned Skripal in order to further isolate Russia. Skripal is “a perfect victim” Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vasily Nebenzia has called him, and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakhrova said today that “London and Washington are the beneficiaries of this provocation.”

Those statements were dismissed by the Trump administration. “Russia should not be acting like a victim. The only victims here are the two victims in the hospital in the U.K. right now,” State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said today.

Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by British Foreign & Commonwealth Office Photostream via Flickr

 

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U.S., 14 EU Nations Announce Coordinated Expulsion of Russian Diplomats

The Trump administration announced that it is expelling sixty Russian diplomats from the U.S. for that government’s alleged role in the poisoning of a Russian ex-patriot living in Britain earlier this month. The announcement is expected to coincide with similar announcements from other European Union countries, many of them also NATO members.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, a body that sets the political agenda of the EU announced the coordinated announcements this morning shortly after 9 a.m. “Today 14 EU Member States decided to expel Russian diplomats as direct follow-up to #EUCO discussion last week on #SalisburyAttack. Additional measures including further expulsions are not excluded in coming days, weeks.”

Countries such as Poland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have indicated that they will be making their similar, individual announcements throughout the day.

Of the sixty diplomats expelled from the U.S., twelve are stationed at the United Nations in New York. Forty-eight are stationed at the Russian embassy in Washington D.C. In addition to the expulsions, the U.S. government is also closing the Russian consulate in Seattle. That consulate, the administration says, is being closed due to its proximity to a U.S. submarine base as well as Boeing headquarters.

Senior administration officials assert that the Russian officials designated for expulsion are intelligence personnel “being cloaked by diplomatic positions here in the US.” The U.S. considers them “aggressive collection personnel.” The expulsions will leave forty Russians in the U.S. by the administration’s estimates, but the fewer number will make it easier for the FBI to track, they say.

Russia is accused of poisoning sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London. They were found slumped on a bench on March 4 and 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 remains 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.

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.

In a joint statement between the U.K., France, Germany and the U.S., the countries condemned the attacks and called on Russia to answer all questions raised by it. Russia has denied any involvement in the incident and has called the U.K.’s actions “provocative” and their accusations “unfounded.”

The White House today admonished Russia but said it stands ready to cooperate with the nation if it will alter its behavior. “With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior,” the statement read.

The only reaction so far to the expulsion by the Russian embassy in the U.S. was to post a poll on its Twitter feed asking for votes on which U.S. embassy in Russia respondents would close if it were up to them. “What US Consulate General would you close in ‪@Russia, if it was up to you to decide [sic],” the embassy asked. The poll listed three U.S.-consulate-locations as options: Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St. Petersburg, Russia.

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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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