Russia says UK has 'chosen confrontation' as strongest sanctions since the Cold War announced
- Diplomats to be expelled
- Sanctions the most wide-ranging against Russia since the Cold War
- May willing to deploy Britain’s military and intelligence capabilities to take action against Russia
- Russia says Britain has made choice 'in favour of confrontation'
Britain will expel 23 Russian spies as part of its “full and robust response” to the “barbaric” poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, Theresa May announced.
The Prime Minister said Russia was guilty of “an unlawful use of force” against the UK and it was time to “send a clear message” to Vladimir Putin.
She said: “Many of us looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We wanted a better relationship and it is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.
“But 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.”
After a meeting of the UK's National Security Council, which includes the heads of MI5, MI6, GCHQ and the Armed Forces, Mrs May announced the most wide-ranging sanctions against Russia since the Cold War.
Russian spies sent home
Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”, Mrs May announced. They have one week to leave.
Mrs May said: “Through these expulsions we will fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come. And if they seek to rebuild it, we will prevent them from doing so.”
It is the single biggest expulsion since 31 Russians were deported in 1985 in a tit-for-tat diplomatic row following the exposure of double agent Oleg Gordievsky, the KGB’s bureau chief in London.
Mrs May said it “reflects the fact that this is not the first time that the Russian State has acted against our country”.
Only four suspected spies were expelled following the murder of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
The mass expulsion will account for almost half the 48 diplomats registered with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by the Russian Embassy.
They are likely to include Colonel Michail Ivanov, the military attache, and six assistant military attaches, including two colonels, a Lt Col, a naval captain and a naval commander.
The Russian Ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, will not be expelled, as Mrs May said “it is not in our national interest to break off all dialogue between the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation”.
Will cyber attacks be next?
Mrs May made it clear that she is willing to deploy Britain’s military and intelligence capabilities to take secret action against Russia, leading to speculation that it could include targeted cyber attacks.
The Prime Minister told MPs: “We will deploy a range of tools from across the full breadth of our National Security apparatus in order to counter the threats of hostile state activity.
“While I have set out some of those measures today, Members on all sides will understand that there are some that cannot be shared publicly for reasons of National Security.”
A senior government official said: “Although we have announced this response, further options remain on the table: economic, diplomatic, legislative, and our security capabilities can all be brought to bear.”
'Magnitsky law' to stop hostile Russians entering UK
Mrs May will extend powers currently used to stop terrorists at the border to include anyone suspected of “hostile state activity” or human rights abuses in order to keep agents of Vladimir Putin’s regime out of the country.
On Monday the UK government will table an amendment to the forthcoming Sanctions Bill which will effectively mirror America’s so-called Magnitsky Act.
Named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax accountant killed in a Moscow prison in 2009, it prohibits Russians and others suspected of human rights abuses from entering the country or using the banking system.
It is designed to hit wealthy allies of Vladimir Putin and put pressure on his regime by turning oligarchs into international pariahs who cannot travel or invest outside Russia.
Asset seizures for corrupt billionaires already in the UK
Britain will step up its seizure of corrupt money and possessions from Russian criminals who have previously treated the UK as a safe haven for their assets.
Greater use will be made of unexplained wealth orders - part of the Criminal Finances Act - which allow the Government to seize cash and assets that suspected criminals cannot account for.
Vince Cable, the LibDem leader, urged Mrs May to take action against Igor Shuvalov, Russia’s first deputy prime minister, who he said owns a £12m (€13.5m) flat overlooking the UK's Ministry of Defence.
Russian state assets will also be frozen wherever there is evidence that they may be used “to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents”.
Mrs May said: “To those who seek to do us harm, my message is simple: you are not welcome here.”
Suspension of high-level diplomatic relations
Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, will no longer speak to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov after Mrs May suspended all “high level bilateral contact” between Russia and the UK.
Mrs May said that until now, Britain’s approach to Russia had been “engage but beware”, but “in the aftermath of this appalling act against our country, this relationship cannot be the same”.
Mr Johnson visited Moscow last year but the invitation he gave Mr Lavrov for a reciprocal visit to the UK has now been revoked.
Mrs May will no longer engage with President Putin, presenting logistical problems for the G20 meeting in Argentina in November.
She also confirmed for the first time that no government ministers or members of the royal family will travel to the World Cup in Russia this summer.
It means The Duke of Cambridge, who is President of the Football Association, will boycott the tournament even though the FA still intends to send the England team to compete.
Building an international coalition of support for tough sanctions against Russia is a crucial part of Mrs May’s response to the Salisbury attack.
Mrs May has spoken to President Donald Trump, the French President Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel who have all agreed to support the UK in “co-ordinating our efforts to stand up for the rules based international order which Russia seeks to undermine”.
A sample of the Novichok nerve agent found in Salisbury is being sent to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for independent analysis to strengthen the criminal case against Russia.
In a statement issued on Wednesday the White House said it supported Britain's decision to expel the diplomats.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he is “appalled” by the alleged poisoning.
“I have to say I'm really appalled and really shocked a t what happened in Salisbury the other day,”Mr Varadkar said
“It doesn't matter where it is, no country should be involved in extra-territorial assassinations, it's not acceptable behaviour in world affairs and there can be no tolerance of any country using chemical weapons or chemical agents in any way.
“No matter who did it and no matter where it occurred it's something the Irish government is appalled at and roundly condemned,” he added.
France will coordinate with British authorities at the highest level its response to the attack, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
"We have full confidence in the investigations that our British partners are carrying out," Le Drian said before going into a meeting with his new German counterpart Heiko Maas.
"In the coming hours, France will be in contact at the highest level with the British authorities to coordinate our response," Le Drian added.
The Russian ambassador to the United Nation said tonight that Moscow demands "material proof be provided of allegedly found Russian trace" in the poisoning incident.
Earlier the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow would swiftly retaliate against the British measures which had been undertaken for "short-sighted political ends".
"The British government has made a choice in favour of confrontation with Russia," it said.
Additional reporting by agencies