The United States, France and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have thrown their weights behind the United Kingdom over the nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy that took place in the United Kingdom last week.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson that America had full faith in UK’s assessment that Russia was behind the nerve agent attack.
“There is never a justification for this type of attack—the attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation—and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behaviour. From Ukraine to Syria, and now the UK, Russia continues to be an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens,” Tillerson said in a statement put out by the US State Department.
French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed solidarity and promised “close coordination” with UK authorities once the Russian response came in, according to reports in British media. In a statement, NATO described UK as a “highly-valued ally” and the incident as of “great concern” to the western military bloc.
The reactions from the international community come as Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday demanded an explanation from Russia over the use of a deadly nerve agent on a former double agent and his daughter, setting a Wednesday deadline for Moscow to get back with a “credible response.”
“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 in the British Parliament on Tuesday. May stated that the apparent assassination attempt was either a “state-sponsored act” or a “case of the agent falling into the wrong hands.” PM May warned of retaliatory measures if Russia failed to respond to UK’s appeal.
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, were attacked in Salisbury in south-central England on March 4. Skripal was attacked with Novichok, the family of nerve agents said to be the deadliest ever created.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov has said that Kremlin won’t respond to the UK until samples of the alleged chemical weapon was provided.
Skripal was convicted by Russia for spying for the US, following which he did a jail time of thirteen years. He was part of spy swap deal between the two powers, after which he settled down in the United Kingdom in 2010. According to news reports, Skripal blew the cover of over 300 Russian agents during his time in Spanish capital Madrid in the 1990s.
Episode comes ahead of Russian presidential election
The scathing reaction from the western powers comes ahead of the presidential vote in Russia on March 18. Incumbent leader Vladimir Putin is being viewed as the favourite to clinch the vote, polling 70% votes in opinion polls.
Putin, who is contesting his last election as President unless he introduces changes to the Russian law, is said to be banking on strong support to stave off criticism from domestic and international opponents, who often accuse him for reluctance to cede leadership.
“Russia has already accused foreign powers of meddling in the vote and (Putin) will probably seek to spin the British response in the same way,” an article in the Guardian said.
A Russian embassy official in New Delhi told National Herald that the latest international backlash against Russia is unlikely to have a bearing on the upcoming vote. “Because the issue is extremely politicised. There is no evidence of Russian involvement in the case,” he said. “The British are exploiting the issue to get back at us for losing the world cup hosting rights to Russia in 2010,” the official added, noting that the English Football Association had accused Russia of bribing the FIFA officials to win the hosting rights. Following the Salisbury attack, England has threatened to withdraw from the FIFA world cup in June this year.
Besides the threat of withdrawing from the mega soccer event, there are several other retaliatory measures on the table, as per British media.
Stepping up NATO presence in east Europe along Russia’s borders, expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK and a joint boycott of the upcoming world cup are some options being contemplated by the UK government.