Poison accusations are ‘nonsense’ says Russia

May: “We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.”

Should Britain punish Russia for poisoning a former spy? The Kremlin rejected Theresa May’s deadline asking it to explain the attack. Today, she outlines a response. Here are seven options…

1/ Revoke Russia Today’s broadcasting licence. The English-language TV station is backed by the Kremlin, and has been called a “propaganda mouthpiece for the Russian state” by one Labour MP. Ofcom, the UK’s broadcasting regulator, has said it is ready to act.

2/ Expel diplomats. In 2007, a year after Alexander Litvinenko was murdered by Russia on UK soil, the government expelled four diplomats from the Russian embassy. Prime Minister Theresa May could do something similar, perhaps even banishing the Russian ambassador himself.

3/ Freeze assets of Russian oligarchs. There are many wealthy Russians in London, and restricting their finances would send a strong signal to Moscow (although it is a tricky legal move). Theresa May says she will consider a “Magnitsky amendment” that would make it easier to seize assets of suspected human rights abusers.

4/ Boycott the World Cup. Last week, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that British officials may not attend the tournament this summer — a symbolic move that Russia dismissed as “hysteria”.

5/ Increase EU sanctions. Russia is already the target of more economic sanctions than any other country, besides North Korea. However, some argue that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, merely uses them to “shield himself from criticism” in his own country.

6/ Cyberattack. This could involve disrupting the Kremlin’s computer networks, or Russian sites known to publish fake news. Last week the Home Secretary Amber Rudd strongly implied this was an option. “You may not hear about it all but when we do see that there is action to be taken, we will take it”, she said.

7/ Step up NATO pressure. May has said that, unless Russia explains itself, the incident will be considered an “unlawful use of force” against the UK. This strong language raises the possibility that she might invoke Article 5 of the NATO treaty, which states that an attack on one ally “shall be considered an attack against them all”. This could lead to a direct offensive against Russia, or (more likely) a build-up of NATO military forces at Russia’s border.

Russian roulette

The UK must hit back hard, say some, and show Russia that its behaviour is unacceptable. Otherwise, it will continue intimidating other countries, breaking international laws, and treating Britain like a playground for spies and gangsters. Enough is enough.

Be careful, warn others. React too quickly or too strongly, and you could set off a chain of events that raises tensions to heights not seen since the Cold War — or even starts a new one. That could have disastrous consequences for Britain and the rest of the world. Talking and diplomacy is always better.

You Decide

  1. Which of these punishments, if any, should Theresa May inflict on Russia?
  2. Is the world living through a second cold war?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are Theresa May’s closest advisor. Write a list of actions you think she should take in response to the poisoning of a British citizen. They can include ideas from this list, or your own. Explain your reasonings for each.
  2. Using your own research, create a timeline that details the history of British-Russian relations over the last 100 years.

Some People Say...

“Everything will probably never be OK. But we have to try for it.”

Vladimir Putin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On March 4, a former Russian spy named Sergei Skripal was poisoned with a nerve agent called Novichok, a toxic chemical weapon developed in the Soviet Union. He and his daughter Yulia are both seriously ill. On Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May gave Russia until midnight yesterday to explain. However, Russia’s foreign minister rejected the ultimatum, saying, “we have nothing to do with this”.
What do we not know?
Whether he is telling the truth. May says it is “highly likely” that it was a state-sponsored attack similar to that on Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. The alternative is that Russia has lost control of its chemical weapons — another extremely troubling scenario. If Russia did order the attack, we do not know how the British government will respond.

Word Watch

Russia Today
The TV station is owned by the Russian state, and presents a pro-Putin perspective on international affairs.
Kremlin
Home of the Russian government.
Oligarchs
An oligarchy is a power structure where a small number of people, who are often very wealthy, have control over something.
Magnitsky
The amendment would be added to a Money Laundering Act currently passing through parliament. It is named after Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption lawyer who died mysteriously in a Russian prison in 2009.
Sanctions
Economic measures intended to hurt a country’s growth, such as by restricting its trade. Experts say existing sanctions reduced Russia’s economic growth by 1% last year.
NATO
A military alliance between 29 nations including Britain, the US and several European states. It was founded in 1949 as a way to check the Soviet Union's ambitions. There are already NATO military forces at the borders of Eastern Europe, to deter Russia from invading.
Cold War
A sustained period of tension between (broadly) the capitalist West and the communist East, which lasted between 1947 and 1991.

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