By Shreya Maskara
The United States, France and Germany have formally backed the United Kingdom’s claim that Russia is responsible for the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, in a joint statement issued Thursday. Following the release of the statement and expulsion of Russian diplomats from Britain, Russian authorities have also announced the expulsion of British diplomats from Moscow.
Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer and double agent for British intelligence services, and his Yulia remain in critical condition at the UK’s Salisbury District Hospital after they were poisoned on March 4 with a nerve agent likely to have been produced in Russia.
A strong response from allies
The joint statement said the attack on Skripal was an attack on the UK’s sovereignty and a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Leaders of the three countries agreed that there was “no plausible alternative explanation” and that Russia’s failure to “address the legitimate request by the UK government further underlines its responsibility.”
In addition to this, following the release of the statement, the US also imposed sanctions on Russian organisations and individuals for interfering with the 2016 presidential elections and other cyber attacks. The move is considered to be the strongest action taken by Washington against Moscow by the Trump administration.
The UK expels Russian diplomats
British Prime Minister Theresa May had requested Russia to provide a satisfactory response for the incident by March 13. As a response to the deadline, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Tuesday that no one can give Russia a 24-hour ultimatum.
However, after Russia’s failure to respond, the UK ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and a crackdown on “corrupt elites”. This expulsion was the largest in 30 years. May told the House of Commons on Wednesday that the Kremlin’s response was sarcastic and defiant. She also announced that the Russian foreign minister’s visit to the UK will be cancelled and no British dignitaries will be attending the upcoming World Cup in Russia.
“Their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said in her address to the House of Commons. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also warned Russians in the United Kingdom who have direct associations with Russian President Vladimir Putin might be the target of an anti-corruption drive.
“There’s a global disgust at what has happened,” Boris, added in an interview with the BBC. “We will continue to make the case to our friends and allies that as a comity of nations we need to stand up to Russia.”
Russia expels British diplomats
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Reuters reports that “of course” Russia is planning to expel British diplomats from Moscow in retaliation for May’s decision. Conditions between the two countries have reached a Cold-War low.
Meanwhile, Russia will hold presidential elections on March 18. News organisations and polls have revealed that Putin is sure to win the elections. An analyst talking to CNBC added that British sanctions might, in fact, prompt more Russians to part take in the vote.
Who is Sergei Skripal?
Born in 1951 in Kaliningrad Oblas, in the former Soviet Union, Skripal was a trained military-intelligence officer. Skripal worked for the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) in Malta and Spain, but was sent back to the headquarters in Moscow in 1996 due to health problems. It is believed that Skripal came into contact with the British government during his trips abroad.
Russian prosecutors believe that he was recruited by the British Secret Intelligence Serve- M.I.6- in 1995, and passed on state secrets, which helped the British uncover the identity of over 300 Russian secret agents.
In 2004, Skripal was arrested outside his house in Moscow and found guilty of treason, sentenced to 13 years in prison and stripped of his ranks. During the time of his trial, Yevgeny Komissarov, a spokesman for Moscow’s military court, said the MI6 had transferred over $100,000 to Skripal for the information he supplied.
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