Theresa May touts response to Russia’s use of chemical weapons

UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday lauded Europe’s response to Russia’s “reckless” use of chemical weapons.

“The past year has tragically proven those threats to be ever more real — not least through the reckless use of a chemical weapon on our own streets by two agents of the Russian Intelligence Services. But it has also proven our commitment to respond — exactly as I said we would,” May said at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, according to a preview of her speech released earlier in the day.

“Together with our allies, in response to the attack in Salisbury, we coordinated the largest ever collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers, fundamentally degrading Russian intelligence capability for years to come. And our law enforcement agencies, through painstaking investigations and cooperation with our allies, produced the irrefutable evidence that enabled our Crown Prosecution Service to bring charges against those responsible.”

The comments come in response to the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, who were found slumped on a park bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4. They had been exposed to Novichok, a rare Soviet-era nerve agent that few scientists outside of Russia have ever dealt with.

Since the attack on the Skirpals, Russia and the UK have been embroiled in a bitter diplomatic fight.

Though Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement, more than 20 countries expelled Russian diplomats in response to the attack.

On June 30, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, a couple living in Amesbury, near Salisbury, also fell ill after being exposed to Novichok; Sturgess died on July 8. UK investigators have linked the incident to the attack on the Skripals.

In September, British prosecutors accused two Russian nationals in connection with the March 4 nerve agent attack. The men claimed to have had nothing to do with the attack on Skripal and his daughter, saying that they came to the UK to visit Stonehenge.

In her speech on Sunday, May also touted the actions taken against Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU. Last month, the Dutch government accused the GRU of targeting the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), through a foiled cyber operation.

“In these actions, we have seen the impact of international unity and a collective response to these threats. We have shown that while the challenge is real, so is the collective resolve of like-minded partners to defend our values, our democracies, and our people,” she said.

Still, May said that this was not the relationship with Russia that she wants.

“We remain open to a different relationship — one where Russia desists from these attacks that undermine international treaties and international security — and instead acts together with us to fulfill the common responsibilities we share as permanent members of the UN Security Council. And we hope that the Russian state chooses to take this path. If it does, we will respond in kind.”