UK expected to impose sanctions on Russia for ex-spy attack

The UK is expected to formally blame Moscow for poisoning a former Russian agent on British soil, according to newspaper reports. Prime Minister Theresa May will chair a National Security Council meeting on the incident.

The UK government could unveil new sanctions against Russia on Monday in response to the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern city of Salisbury.

Science | 21.03.2018

Prime Minister Theresa May will chair a meeting of the UK's National Security Council on Monday to discuss the incident. 

Read more: Outrage in Britain as Russian ex-spy fights for his life

According to several British newspapers, citing government sources, after the meeting she is expected to declare that the attack was a state-sponsored murder attempt, carried out by Russia on British soil, and announce fresh sanctions against Moscow.

British daily The Times reported that the prime minister is also considering an array of other hardline measures, including diplomatic expulsions and rescinding the visas of Kremlin-linked residents among the possible measures.

Lawmaker Tom Tugendhat told the BBC on Monday that the poisoning of Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, looked "awfully like it was state-sponsored attempted murder."

Read more: Spy assassinations: the top 5 deadly poisons

He added: "We're expecting the prime minister to make an announcement soon and frankly I would be surprised if she did not point the finger at the Kremlin."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Monday rejected the allegations, saying that the incident was "not a matter for the Russian government."

Former Russian intelligence agent Skripal and his daughter were found slumped on a bench in the southern English town of Salisbury on March 4. The pair was rushed to hospital where they remain in critical but stable condition. Authorities confirmed that the father and daughter were poisoned by a nerve agent, but have yet disclose the specific type used.

Russia has denied any involvement in the attack.

May under pressure to respond

Theresa May has come under pressure to crack down on Moscow by the more hawkish voices in her Cabinet, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Johnson has warned that the UK would act robustly if Russia was found to be behind the poisoning. He also compared the incident to the murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006, who died after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium.

A UK inquiry found that Russian President Vladimir Putin probably approved the attack. Then as now, Russian denied any responsibility.

Skripal arrived in the UK in 2010 as part of a spy swap deal between London and Moscow. A former colonel in Russia's military intelligence service, he was detained and jailed in Russia after being found guilty of betraying agents to Britain's MI6 secret service.

Counterterrorism investigation ongoing

Officials said on Sunday that over 250 counterterrorism officers were in Salisbury, evaluating some 240 pieces of evidence and interviewing around 200 witnesses. 

They are backed by roughly 180 military troops, who arrived in the southern English town to provide logistical support. 

The UK government issued a health warning on Sunday, urging anyone who frequented either the Zizzi restaurant or Mill pub in Salisbury on March 4 or 5 to wash their clothes and possessions

Dr. Jenny Harries of Public Health England stressed during a press conference that there was a very low risk of exposure to the poison. However, the government nevertheless faced a wave scrutiny over why it took seven days to provide advice on how to limit exposure to potential health risks. 

A history of political poisonings

Sergei Skripal

Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old former Russian spy, was found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in the British city of Salisbury after he was exposed to what police said was an unknown substance. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the situation "tragic" but said, "We don't have information about what could be the cause, what this person did."

A history of political poisonings

Kim Jong Nam

The estranged half-brother of Kim Jong Un was killed on February 13, 2018 at Kuala Lumpur airport after two women allegedly smeared the chemical nerve agent VX on his face. In February, a Malaysian court heard that Kim Jong Nam had been carrying a dozen vials of antidote for the deadly nerve agent VX in his backpack at the time of the poisoning.

A history of political poisonings

Alexander Litvinenko

Former Russian spy Litvinenko had worked for the Federal Security Service (FSB) before he defected to Britain, where he became a journalist and wrote two books of accusations against the FSB and Putin. He became ill after meeting with two former KGB officers and died on November 23, 2006. A government inquiry found he was killed by radioactive polonium-210 which it alleged the men put in his tea.

A history of political poisonings

Viktor Kalashnikov

In November 2010, doctors at Berlin's Charité hospital discovered high levels of mercury had been found in a Russian dissident couple working in Berlin. Kalashnikov, a freelance journalist and former KGB colonel, had 3.7 micrograms of mercury per litre of blood, while his wife had 56 micrograms. A safe level is 1-3 micrograms. Viktor reportedly told German magazine Focus that "Moscow poisoned us."

A history of political poisonings

Viktor Yushchenko

Ukrainian opposition leader Yushchenko became sick in September 2004 and was diagnosed with acute pancreatis caused by a viral infection and chemical substances. The illness resulted in facial disfigurement, with pockmarks, bloating and jaundice. Doctors said the changes to his face were from chloracne, which is a result of dioxin poisoning. Yushchenko claimed government agents poisoned him.

A history of political poisonings

Khaled Meshaal

On September 25, 1997, Israel's intelligence agency attempted to assassinate Hamas leader Meshaal, under orders from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Two agents sprayed a poisonous substance into Meshaal's ear as he walked into the Hamas offices in Amman, Jordan. The assassination attempt was unsuccessful and not long afterward the two Israeli agents were captured.

A history of political poisonings

Georgi Markov

In 1978, Bulgarian dissident Markov was waiting at a bus stop after a shift at the BBC when he felt a sharp jab in his thigh. He turned to see a man picking up an umbrella. A small bump appeared where he felt the jab and four days later he died. An autopsy found he'd been killed by a small pellet containing a 0.2-milligram dose of ricin. Many believe the poisoned dart was fired from the umbrella.

A history of political poisonings

Grigori Rasputin

On December 30, 1916, mystic and spiritual healer Rasputin arrived at Yusupov Palace in St Petersburg at the invitation Prince Felix Yusupov. There, Prince Yusupov offered Rasputin cakes laced with potassium cyanide but he just kept eating them. Yusupov then gave him wine in a cyanide-laced wine glasses, but still Rasputin continued to drink. With the poison failing, Rasputin was shot and killed.

dm/ng (Reuters, AFP, AP)