Russian attack on agent in UK unites allies
Brian Messing, Section Editor
On March 4, the Russian government launched an attack on Sergei Skripal, a former double agent, currently living in the United Kingdom. Skripal was attacked by a lethal nerve agent that affect both him and his daughter. Skripal was born in the Soviet Union in 1951, and acted as a double agent on behalf of the U.K.’s intelligence service, MI6, during the 1990’s. While he worked for MI6, Skripal disclosed the names of many Russian agents working across Europe. Skripal was arrested in 2004, and later tried and convicted of high treason and sentenced to 13 years in prison, according to BBC. In 2010, Skripal was part of so-called “spy swap” between, the United Kingdom, Russia, and others, in which the two countries exchanged captured spies with each other.
The attack happened on March 4, in Skriapl’s home in Salisbury. The attack was seen as Russia’s way to get back at Skripal for his service to MI6 and the United Kingdom. In addition to being poisoned, Skripal’s daughter Yulia was also poisoned. As of March 22, the pair remain in critical condition in the hospital. The Russian scientist who helped develop the lethal nerve agent, Vladimir Uglev, described the poison. He told Yahoo News that Novichok, the nerve agent, was developed by the Soviet Ministry of Defense between 1972 and 1988. He noted that the poison was developed in both liquid and powder form and was stored in warehouses. He also said most importantly that there is no antidote and that if Skripal and his daughter are taken off life support, they will certainly die.
The reaction from the British government has been swift and strong. British Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that it is “highly likely” that the Russian government was behind the attack, in a statement to the House of Commons. Not surprisingly, the Kremlin has denied this allegation. The Russian’s government responded to the Prime Minister’s allegations by calling her speech “a circus show.” The White House responded by calling the attack “an outrage.” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated that “the act was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible.” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson summoned the Russian Ambassador and demanded “full and complete disclosure” of the Novichok program, according to the Prime Minister.
The European Union showed its support to the United Kingdom at the EU Summit in Brussels. The European Union agreed with the Prime Minister at the summit, that it was highly likely that Russia was behind the nerve attack. As an act of symbolic protest, the European Union withdrew its envoy to Russia. The support from the European Union, on behalf of the United Kingdom, shows their joint fight against Russia’s aggression, despite the United Kingdom leaving the bloc in about one year. According to Reuters, this marks a breakthrough for the United Kingdom, as convincing the EU leaders to condemn Russia had been a goal of the British government since the attack on March 4.
The attack sets a nasty precedent. It was the first instance of a nerve toxin in Europe since WWII. According to Reuters, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that there is a definite possibility that the European Union will take harsher measures against Russia, while acting together as a body. Britain moved to expel 23 Russian spies and other countries in the European Union have taken similar measures. Additionally, the British Cultural Centre in Saint Petersburg was closed.