Saturday, May 18

May Is Said to Tell Allies to Beware Russia: Expel Putin’s Spies


 

 

The U.K. is sharing secret intelligence about the nerve agent attack on a former spy with key allies, in an effort to persuade them to expel Russian diplomats across Europe, people familiar with the matter said.

Prime Minister Theresa May ordered 23 Russian operatives who she said were undeclared spies to leave Britain last week in retaliation for the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, England. Now she wants other countries to follow Britain’s example, condemning Russia and taking action against Kremlin agents, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing sensitive security matters.

May stands outside The Mill pub in Salisbury on March 15.

Whether or not May succeeds is being seen as a key test of her ability to influence the EU and demonstrate that the U.K. can still count on its international friends after Brexit. So far, however, EU governments have only agreed on a relatively mild statement and have stopped short of joining May in blaming the Kremlin, with Greece said to be among the countries seeking further proof of Russian involvement.

Challenge of Russia

The Skripal affair is proving to be the first big foreign policy test for the U.K. after Brexit, said Mujtaba Rahman, a Europe analyst at Eurasia Group. This week’s mild statement by EU foreign ministers shows the limits of the U.K.’s influence in the EU after Brexit.

May will deliver a hard-hitting warning over the threat posed to the whole of Europe by Vladimir Putin’s government during a dinner with fellow leaders at the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, a senior British official told reporters.

The challenge of Russia is one that will endure for years to come, according to extracts released in advance by her office, May will tell the leaders.

The premier is hoping to persuade her EU counterparts to show solidarity by stepping up their criticism of Putin to ensure that they lay the blame squarely at Russia’s door. She wants them to act.

Russia denies that it is behind the nerve agent attack. The U.S., France, and Germany are among the countries to have publicly supported the U.K.’s findings that Russia is culpable.

Main Obstacle

In particular, the U.K. is in constant contact with skeptical countries such as Greece in an attempt to persuade them of the evidence against Putin, the people said.

The Skripal case may also prompt remaining EU states to consider their preparedness for the threat posed by Russia, said Rahman in an email Wednesday. The main obstacle to a stronger reaction is the presence of Russia-friendly member states, not Brexit. This said, Brexit has made it harder for the U.K. to counter this opposition and push the EU27 to go the extra mile.

The U.K. says there is no doubt that the nerve agent used in the attack was of the type known as Novichok, which is manufactured in Russia. Officials have said it is likely Putin himself ordered the attempted assassination of Skripal, who had worked as a double agent for British intelligence.

Specialists on March 7 inspect bench where Sergei Skripal was found critically with his daughter on March 4.

Investigators in the U.K. now know exactly what type of nerve agent in the Novichok family was used, and precisely where in Russia it was made.

United We Will Succeed

In a tit-for-tat move, Putin expelled 23 British diplomats from Russia. May has so far not responded publicly to the act, but her officials have drawn up a menu of options for stepping up the pressure on the Kremlin.

May’s office believes the removal of the 23 Russian spies will effectively wind up Putin’s espionage capability in the U.K. If British intelligence identifies other secret Russian agents, they will also be ejected from the country.

When she addresses the summit dinner, May will argue that Russia is a strategic enemy, not a strategic partner, saying it poses a long-term national security threat to all EU countries. The attack happened to take place in England but could have occurred in any European country, she will say, according to a U.K. official.

As a European democracy, the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to shoulder with the European Union and with NATO to face these threats together, May will tell the leaders. United we will succeed.