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Why Russia's involvement in poisoning Skripals plays into the hands of London and Kyiv?

Author : Georgiy Kuhaleyshvili

No matter how Russia denies its involvement in the poisoning of Skripals, it is unlikely that any of its leaders will be able to explain plausibly why else two GRU officers found themselves in a provincial town in the south of England where their former colleague settled
15:30, 10 September 2018

112 Agency

The British counter-terrorism police found two Russian citizens - Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who may be implicated in the poisoning of a former employee of the Main Intelligence Agency (GRU) and his daughter Julia. British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about this in the House of Commons of the British Parliament, stressing that both Russians are employees of the GRU and the perpetrators of the chemical attack in Salisbury. So, they visited London and Salisbury on March 2-4 before the poisoning of the Skrypals. The Russians were spotted by the surveillance cameras of the airports of Gatwick and Heathrow, the London Underground, the station and public places in the city of Salisbury. They brought the poisoning substance "Novichok" in an artisan bottle in the guise of Nina Ricci perfume and sprayed it on the front door of the Skrypal house. The discarded bottle fell into the hands of local residents Charlie Rowley and Don Sturgess, who were also poisoned by the "Novichok". Great Britain demands to extradite Petrov and Boshirov, to reveal their true personalities. New details in the investigation of the chemical attack in Salisbury are really useful for British conservatives and Ukraine.

Argument for new sanctions

There are good reasons for tightening anti-Russian sanctions. In fact, Russia carried out aggression and violated the sovereignty of Great Britain, a member country of NATO, using prohibited chemical weapons in its territory. As a result of the chemical attack, Don Sturgess died. Also, Russia violated the 1993 Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons by its actions. The United Kingdom convened an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on September 6 to inform 14 permanent and non-permanent members about new details of the chemical attack in Salisbury. British Security Minister Ben Wallace does not doubt that Putin is behind the attack on the Skrypals. Theresa May said that the UK, together with its partners, uses all sorts of measures through the UN Security Council to counter the threat from the GRU. The British prime minister refused to discuss the incident in Salisbury with Russian President Vladimir Putin and instead spoke with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and US President Donald Trump. She called for the introduction of international sanctions for the use of chemical weapons by Russia.

British diplomats will be able to convey from the rostrum of the UN Security Council that Russia's aggression is not limited to Ukraine and Georgia, it can affect even NATO member countries. State security agencies of other countries of the world can more closely monitor the presence of Russian special services and expel anyone who causes suspicion of espionage. First of all, it concerns the USA, the Baltic countries and Poland, where Russian spies are periodically exposed and expelled. The British give food for thought to countries such as Austria, which refused to expel Russian diplomats after it became known about the chemical attack in Salisbury. Pictures of suspicious Russians walking along the streets of Salisbury, where a few hours later Sergei and Julia Skrypals were on the verge of life and death and three months later two more Britons were poisoned, caused a resonance in the West. In their joint statement, the leaders of the United States, France and Germany joined the accusation of Russia of poisoning the Skrypals and expressed their readiness to work together to counter the threat from Russia.

It is unlikely that it will be possible to achieve the introduction of international sanctions against Russia within the framework of the UN Security Council. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and will veto resolutions that provide for sanctions and charges for the use of chemical weapons in Salisbury. The UK is interested in involving its NATO allies in imposing restrictive measures against Russia. Since the end of August, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, Jeremy Hunt, has urged EU member states to impose sanctions similar to US sanctions against Russia. In the US, there is a law on the elimination of chemical and biological weapons from 1991, which provides for sanctions against states that apply it against their citizens, as well as firms involved in its distribution. The US State Department was informed of the intention to impose sanctions against Russia in accordance with this law since August 27.

At the first stage, the sanctions provide for a ban on financing transactions related to the sale of Russian weapons, stopping the issuance of loans and grants to Russian counterparts, a ban on the export to Russia of products that are relevant to US national security, including gas turbines and various electronics. If within three months Russia does not allow the mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to visit the territory of its chemical industry to check the chemical industry facilities for the production of the Novichok substance, the United States, according to the law, may prohibit the Russian airline Aeroflot from flying to the US and prohibit the American companies export-import operations with Russian counterparts. This situation is quite likely, since the Kremlin zealously denies its involvement in the poisoning of the Skrypals. Director of the Department of Information and Press of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova said that the names of the suspects in the Salisbury and Amesbury incidents do not tell her anything.

Now is the right time to impose sanctions against the companies that are involved in the construction of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, including Gazprom (Russia), Royal Dutch Shell PLC (UK / Netherlands), Wintershall AG (Germany), Uniper SE (Germany), OMV (Austria) and Engie SA (France). The US Congress is working on an appropriate bill. New restrictive measures can be presented as punitive measures against Russia for the use of chemical weapons. But the Americans are driven purely by economic interests, since they want to reduce Russia's share in the EU gas market (about a third) to free niches for liquefied natural gas from the United States.

Common interests of London and Kyiv

New details of the investigation of the incident in Salisbury play into the hands of Ukraine. Like Britain, we are interested in tightening sanctions against Russia. Back in March, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin supported the UK's position that the chemical attack in Salisbury is the work of Russia. On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, our diplomats can convince the representatives of different countries that the Kremlin's use of chemical weapons in the UK is another crime of the Putin regime, like the aggression in Donbas and the annexation of Crimea, and the existing sanctions need only be strengthened. Through the efforts of Ukrainian diplomacy, 70 countries supported the resolution "The Situation with Human Rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol" in the UN General Assembly, which condemns the violation of the rights of Crimean Tatars by the occupation authorities. The Council of Europe adopted a decision condemning the annexation of the peninsula by Russia, and the United States promulgated a declaration on the non-recognition of the annexation of Crimea (supported by Poland).

Ukraine needs arguments in opposition to eurosceptics who support the lifting of sanctions. Recently, Czech President Miloš Zeman once again argued that anti-Russian sanctions do not bring anything other than harm to European countries and called for the abolition of them at the next European Council meeting. Similar statements were made this summer by the Minister of the Interior of Italy Matteo Salvini, Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini. The new details of the chemical attack investigation put these politicians in an unpleasant situation, as if they are ready to put the national security of their countries at stake for the sake of lifting sanctions and economic benefits from cooperation with Russia. Ukraine should use the British-Russian scandal that is firing with renewed force around the Salisbury incident to strengthen its positions on the diplomatic front of the struggle to preserve the EU's anti-Russian sanctions.

The political bonuses of Theresa May

Theresa May uses an investigation into the chemical attack in Salisbury to divert attention from the opponents of her "soft" Brexit plan criticism. The essence of her plan is to preserve the access of the UK to the Common Market and free movement of goods in accordance with trade rules agreed with the European Commission while reducing migration. This idea is not supported by a significant number of Conservative Party members, including former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. They are in favor of the full exit of the Britain from the EU.

Supporters of Britain's membership in the European Union among the Laborites also criticize May. The idea of the British prime minister did not find support in the EU in the course of negotiations with the governments of individual European countries, including the Czech Republic and France. In October, a summit will be held at which representatives of the EU and the UK should approve the Brexit agreement, which will then be considered in the British parliament. It is possible that in this issue, May will lose. At the annual conference of the Conservative Party, the question of changing the leader may be raised. Boris Johnson has every chance of becoming a substitute for May. In July, the activity of the incumbent prime minister was supported by only 30% of the British.

Thanks to the exposure of Petrov and Boshirov, the topic of Brexit has faded into the background, and now May is trying to consolidate British society around the external threat from Russia. She presents herself as a tough leader in the style of ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who is ready to take any measures to protect British people. May's task is to overcome the split in the Conservative Party over Brexit. In particular, at the last parliamentary meeting, May and Johnson held a common position on the Salisbury incident, in spite of disagreements over the issue of Britain's withdrawal from the EU. Johnson technically discredited May's main opponent, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbin. After it became known about the activities of Petrov and Boshirov, the Labor leader stated that he would support any actions against Russia and the GRU. In response, Johnson recalled that previously Corbin denied Russia's responsibility for the chemical attack. Corbin also claimed that Russia annexed Crimea in response to NATO's eastward expansion. Conservatives led by May and Johnson exposed the Laborites and Corbin as romantics who do not realize the threat that comes from Russia.

Syrian Context

The new details in the investigation of the Salisbury incident complicate Russia's position in Syria, which together with President Bashar Assad is preparing to attack Idlib province - the last bulwark of the opposition "Syrian Free Army" and organizations of radical Islamists. The United States and the United Nations have repeatedly warned Russia and Assad not to use chemical weapons and to refrain from mass destruction. If Assad forces use chlorine or sarin to withdraw militants from occupied positions in Idlib settlements, the whole burden of responsibility will fall on Russia's shoulders. Say, the Kremlin not only uses banned chemical weapons as a weapon of murder in the territory of other countries, but also turns a blind eye to its use by its satellites.

Russia will have to convince Assad not to arrange in Idlib the second Aleppo or Duma with mass destruction and chemical attacks. Otherwise, Damascus will not escape the new missile strikes of the United States and its allies, as well as Moscow – its new sanctions. The States have already deployed a destroyer and a Tomahawk cruise missile submarine in the Mediterranean, a strategic bomber at the El Udeid airbase in Qatar, in case of need to strike at Assad's troops in Idlib in response to a possible chemical attack by his troops. The United States has already destroyed several military facilities during the bombing raids in Syria in 2017-2018. The statements of British politicians about the involvement of the two Russians in the Salisbury incident draw the attention of the international community to the problem of Russia's non-compliance with the regime of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. There are concerns about the repetition of similar provocations in other countries where Russia has interests.

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