They have one week to pack their bags. Expulsion orders have been sent out for 23 Russian diplomats—or, to call a spade a spade, spies—the largest such decision since the ‘70s. Furthermore, no royal or government official from the UK will attend the soccer World Cup, which will take place in Russia during the summer. England’s national team will, however, be there—at least as things stand at the moment.
Theresa May also announced a strengthening of counter-intelligence defenses and the freezing of Russian funds that otherwise would be passing undisturbed through the UK’s banks and investment funds. Furthermore, the UK’s borders will be monitored more closely from now on, in order to keep out Russian spies or hitmen, or anyone suspected of being such.
All the previous bilateral agreements between the two countries are now up in the air. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s invitation to visit London has been cancelled, even though he is now at pains to insist that he had never actually accepted it.
As expected, the deadline of the ultimatum that Britain had given to Vladimir Putin’s Russia—Tuesday at midnight—came and went without the Kremlin acceding to the requests of the British Prime Minister. Downing Street was expecting to receive an explanation about the attempted poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, an exile to Britain, and his daughter Julia, 33, in the lovely town of Salisbury. British investigations concluded that it was either a direct act by the Russian state against Britain, or that the substance used in the attack, the infamous Soviet-made nerve agent Novichok, must have fallen into the wrong hands, due to suspected negligence by the Russian authorities.
Moscow’s response to the accusations coming the British was about as close to a one-finger salute as one can get in the diplomatic realm. The spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry described the allegations as a “circus,” and Russian media have been reporting on the incident in a half-serious, half-joking tone.
“Their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” said May in Westminster, describing the Russian reactions as replete with “sarcasm, contempt and defiance.” Indeed, Putin’s reaction—whose message to May, delivered with a wide grin, was “Don’t threaten a nuclear power!”—didn’t exactly show any sign of concern. Perhaps this is because his unanimous reelection in the upcoming presidential elections next Sunday is a done deal.
Ten days after two Russian citizens were taken to hospital (where they are still in critical condition) after being poisoned with a substance banned by the international treaties on chemical warfare, the Skripal scandal is now a stake through the heart of Anglo-Russian diplomatic relations. But the utter disdain shown by the Russians to the violated sovereignty of Westminster, which is now faced with the reality of the lives of UK citizens having been endangered in an attempted double murder of foreigners on its soil, is hardly being given an appropriately severe response by these latest measures, no matter how much May insists it is.
She herself was Interior Minister when, after Alexander Litvinenko, one by one the Russian exiles living in the country began to drop like flies. Yet, she waited until 2014 before convening a commission of inquiry into the murder of the ex-spy, which took place in 2006. Her great circumspection is explainable by the fact that London is an enormous money laundering hub for the dirty cash of (among others) the Russian oligarchs—that particular species which began to flourish out of control with the blessing and the generous contribution of the neoliberal West, relieved by the implosion of the Soviet “evil empire.”
Some put on a respectable public face: for instance Abramovich, owner of the Chelsea football club, or Lebedev, owner of the newspaper The Independent. But there are many others who are in the business of parking and/or investing their ill-gotten gains in the City, employing a patchwork of investment banks and financial operators in exchange for political favors.
Jeremy Corbin pointed to this state of affairs Tuesday night in Westminster, amid the constant interruptions of Conservative MPs, who, as expected, kept accusing him of everything from a mere lack of patriotism to being a member of the “fifth column” with sinister intentions.
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