Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
London, United Kingdom (4E) – The United Kingdom expelled 23 Russian spies, almost half of the staff at the Russian Embassy in London, as part of a broader set of punitive measures against Vladimir Putin and Russia for poisoning a former Russian spy turned British citizen and his daughter in Salisbury last March 4.
The UK has identified these 23 Russian “diplomats” as “undeclared intelligence officers.” This mass expulsion is part of campaign by the UK to dismantle the Russian spy network in the country. The UK has given these Russian spies just one week to leave.
In addition, the UK will also sever all top-level ties with Russia, and will send no ministers or royals to the 2018 FIFA World Cup to be held from June 14 to July 15. Prime Minister Theresa May, who announced the harsh sanctions against Russia at the House of Commons, said London is considering new laws to combat Russian spying and imposing new sanctions. May said the expulsions were the biggest such move over the last 30 years.
The UK will also look into new laws to stop Russian spies from entering the UK under cover of diplomatic passports while being more stringent on the entry of private jets from Russia. May said the UK will use “a range of tools from across the full breadth of our national security apparatus in order to counter the threats of hostile state activity.”
“We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents,” said the PM.
“And, led by the National Crime Agency, we will continue to bring all the capabilities of UK law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites. There is no place for these people — or their money — in our country.”
May said the UK will urgently develop proposals for new legislative powers to “harden our defences against all forms of hostile state activity. She said these moves “will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the UK border. This power is currently only permitted in relation to those suspected of terrorism.”
May noted Russia had treated a UK request to explain how the military-grade nerve agent “novichok” was used in the attack with “sarcasm, contempt and defiance,” and had offered no credible explanation for it. She told MPs that Russia had shown “complete disdain for the gravity of this event.”
“There is no alternative conclusion other than the Russian state was responsible for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter,” according to May.
The attempted assassination of the Skripals was, she said, an “unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom”.
“We will not tolerate the threat to life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian government. Nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations.”
May further said that while the UK’s response “must be robust, it must remain true to our values as a liberal democracy that believes in the rule of law. Many Russians have made this country their home, abide by our laws and make a contribution which we continue to welcome. For those who seek to do us harm, my message is simple — you are not welcome here.
“I continue to believe it is not in our national interest to break off all contact but in the aftermath of this appalling act against our country, this relationship cannot be the same.
“We have no disagreement with the people of Russia. Many of us looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We wanted a better relationship and it is tragic President Putin has chosen to act in this way.”
British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said the attack against the Skripals is the first time a nerve agent has been used in Europe since the end of World War II.
Novichok is believed to be up to 10 times more potent than VX, the nerve agent used to kill Kim Jong Nam, the estranged older half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at an airport in Kuala Lumpur in 2017.
France, Germany and the United States have all condemned the attack.
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