On March 4, a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, was discovered unconscious alongside his daughter on a park bench in Salisbury, Southern England. According to Prime Minister Theresa May, they were poisoned with Novichok, a Russian nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s. This has been the ‘‘first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War,’’ and has been described as an assault on U.K. sovereignty in a joint statement from the leaders of the U.K., the U.S., Germany and France. The victims, 66-year-old former Russian spy and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, remain in critical condition after the attempted murder.
Theresa May’s expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats living in the U.K., who are believed to have been operating as spies, has caused backlash from Putin, as the Russian foreign ministry has said they will expel 23 British diplomats from Moscow, as well as close the British Council in Russia. The PM of the U.K. has said, “There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter — and for threatening the lives of other British citizens.” France, Germany and the U.S. have all supported the U.K.’s stance, in the face of Russian denials. “We will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government,” May added.
British opposition leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has spoken out against the U.K. government’s premature response to this event in an opinion piece for The Guardian released on March 15th, writing, “To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.” Although he agrees, “the Russian authorities must be held to account on the basis of the evidence,” he says “let us not manufacture a division over Russia where none exists.” While Corbyn’s Labour party are by no means supporters of Putin’s regime, “that does not mean we should resign ourselves to a ‘new cold war’ of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent.” The opposition leader instead advocates for Britain to “reduce tensions and conflict wherever possible.” This stands in contrast to Donald Trump’s response to the issue in saying, “It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it,” which seems to place perhaps a well-founded blame, but without proper evidence to back up such a claim. If it is uncovered that Russia was indeed behind this attack, it will highlight Putin’s disregard for the British rule of law and the safety of its citizens. It will be crucial for British and other world leaders to address this attack on a former MI6 agent and hold Russia accountable.
This event is reminiscent of the Cold War era, adding to the already existing tensions between the Western alliance, particularly the U.K, and Russia. Jeremy Corbyn is calling for a more measured and rational response to the issue, not letting emotion cloud the judgement of British officials. Yet if proven, Britain and its allies should undoubtedly hold Putin’s Russia responsible, as the safety of British citizens has been put at risk.
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