- Theresa May announced her retaliatory measures against Russia over the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal on Wednesday afternoon
- There are a lot more actions the Prime Minister could take to punish Russia, but she has stopped short of doing so.
- The UK doesn’t want to sever relations with Russia, and Britain’s allies are unlikely going to go beyond verbally condemning Russia, experts say.
LONDON – Theresa May has a wide range of options to retaliate against Russia for the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal – but she probably isn’t going to use them.
The Prime Minister told Parliament earlier on Wednesday she will expel 23 Russian diplomats, freeze certain Russian assets, and withdraw the government officials from the World Cup in retaliation for the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury.
But this isn’t everything she could be doing.
May neither announced the expulsion of the Russian ambassador to the UK, the country’s highest-ranking diplomat, nor mentioned potentially passing the Magnitsky Act, a legislation under consideration in the House of Lords that could effectively freeze the UK assets of Russian officials and businessmen with human rights violations, and even bar them from the entering the country.
She did call for increased powers in the UK sanction bills, but didn’t specify what that would entail.
She could also launch a cyberattack against Russia or call on Ofcom to expel Russia’s state-run RT channel from the UK, as Business Insider outlined earlier this week, but these are also unlikely to happen.
This is because Britain has no interest in severing its ties with Russia, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director-general at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
May’s response to Russia has been “more than token,” Chalmers said, but she is acting with caution and avoiding any overreaction against Russia.
Despite the recent spat with the UK and deteriorating reputation in the US as an election meddler, Moscow remains a key player on the world stage.
Russia is the second-largest nuclear-armed state, and one of five members of the UN Security Council – which is due to convene a special meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss the alleged use of nerve agents by Russia.
The most effective way to cripple Russia would be international retaliation, such as increasing sanctions or taking military action against Russia on a European or NATO level.
Putin’s long-term goal is to lift international sanctions against Russia, Jonathan Eyal, RUSI’s international director, told reporters on Wednesday.
However, multinational action against Russia against the Skripal attack is also unlikely. While British allies like the US, Germany, and the European Commission have since expressed solidarity with the UK over the Skripal crisis, they are unlikely going to take any more action beyond that, Eyal said.
Despite condemning the poisoning of Skripal and his daughter earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron has since declined to point any fingers at Russia. He has decided to wait for “definitive conclusions” before taking any further action, French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Wednesday afternoon, according to The Guardian.
Ben West, a senior security analyst for Stratfor, also told Business Insider on Tuesday that collective action against Russia by NATO “highly unlikely.”
Hours after May’s announcement, the Kremlin announced that it would retaliate against the UK’s announcements.
“The British government made a choice for confrontation with Russia,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse. “Our response will not be tardy.”