Attack on former Russian spy: A perfect attack?

The attack on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy who had defected to the U.K., and his daughter Yulia in the cathedral city of Salisbury on March 4 was an outrageous act flouting all international norms. The military grade nerve agent used in the attack, the first of its kind in Europe since World War II, has been identified as being from the Novichok class of chemical agents developed by Russia during the Cold War. The modus operandi of the attack was similar to the polonium poisoning of another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, in London in 2006, an attack that is likely to have been approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin according to a U.K. inquiry. It is therefore entirely reasonable that Britain asked Russia to clarify if it was behind the attack or had somehow lost control over the nerve agent, two possible explanations for the Salisbury incident. Having failed to get a quick reply from Russia, British Prime Minister Theresa May instituted a slew of measures in response to the attack, including expelling 23 Russian diplomats (Russia has promised to retaliate), and freezing its government assets considered potentially harmful to Britons.

In addition to its relationship with Russia, the attack has tested Britain’s ties with the U.S. and its NATO and European Union allies as the country leaves the EU. After some initial hesitation and qualified support, the U.S. administration got behind Britain at the UN Security Council; France and Germany have also supported the British position that Russia was behind the attack. The attack brings home the point that it is crucial for Britain to continue a coordinated security strategy with the rest of the EU once Brexit happens. Within the U.K. itself, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn supported Ms. May’s decision to expel Russian diplomats but, correctly, questioned the haste with which it was done, especially since a thorough investigation had not been completed. He also asked that Russian finance be blocked from funding British political parties. Britain and the rest of the democratic world have every reason to be outraged at this barbaric attack and to look to Russia for an explanation. Although the available evidence points at Moscow, it is within the realm of possibility that a rogue actor and not the state acquired and deployed the nerve agent. It is because the so-called free world cherishes the rule of law and reason, that a thorough investigation into Russia’s role in the attack is done before punitive action beyond that already instituted are considered. Tensions are running high and the last thing a fractious world needs is another Cold War. It is in the U.K.’s interests in terms of security, support and goodwill, if firm and resolute action — that is the need of the hour — is thoroughly backed by reason and evidence.

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 3:01:46 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-perfect-attack/article23275047.ece

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