With Theresa May setting a midnight deadline for Vladimir Putin to provide answers on what exactly happened in Salisbury to former spy Sergei Skripal, things haven’t seemed this tense between the UK and Russia in a very long time.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today demanded access to samples of the nerve agent used to poison Mr Skripal and his daughter – something the UK government has denied.
But what could happen if it is definitively proved Russia was behind the attack? We spoke to Russia expert Andrew S. Bowen, from Boston College, to find out all about it…
Is there any chance of military conflict because of this attack?
“It is unlikely there will be any military action. Unlike Syria or other smaller countries, the option of launching cruise missiles or a few airstrikes to demonstrate your resolve is removed when dealing with a nuclear armed power like Russia with significant military capabilities. There is definitely the option of moving military assets into areas or regions that would make Russia very nervous, but I would wager that it is unlikely that military options are being seriously considered. However, the statements coming out of Downing Street demonstrate a seriousness and level of tension that has not been seen in quite a while. This is one of the most serious situations states can find themselves in.”
What is the more likely outcome of this confrontation?
“The most likely, and frankly obvious choice, is to impose further Russian sanctions. The Kremlin and Russian elite’s biggest pressure point has, and remains, its dependence on western financial systems to support the regime. Sanctions are a crucial tool of influence, but there are other more immediate options available as well. Publicizing Russian wealth, disclosing corruption, targeting financial networks (like immediate asset freezes, such as the UK’s recent unexplained wealth order laws) provide the UK with powerful tools that can be implemented immediately.”
What will all this mean for the UK’s relationship with Russia and Trump’s USA?
“For the UK and Russia, an almost total severing of relations. The statements from Downing Street have demonstrated how serious of a violation they view this Russian action to be. There is almost inconceivable way that the Kremlin did not know and authorise the use of this extremely controlled nerve agent–specifically created to be undetectable by NATO chemical weapon systems.
It now seems the Russians have seriously overestimated their ability to conduct brazen acts such as this without ramifications–at least towards the UK.
No one can really tell what is going on with the Trump administration. Secretary Tillerson was just fired this morning, with competing explanations coming from both the White House and the State Department (some reports suggest he first learned of his ousting via Trump’s tweet).
If the Trump administration continues to deny, or even equivocate, on Russia’s culpability in the face of the UK’s strident and confident assertions, I cannot imagine a situation in which relations between the UK and US do not suffer. Failing to support an ally (traditionally one of America’s closest) in the face of a state sponsored attack on their soil, is a tremendous breach in the partnership.”