Ten days after the nerve gas attack against a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury, the UK government has put the blame squarely on Russia.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister Theresa May announced to the House of Commons her government’s response to the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
As well as the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, the largest for more than 30 years, the UK government is enacting new laws to prevent “hostile state activity”, new moves against Russian assets and a Magnistsky-style measures against those involved in human rights abuses.
London is the foreign capital of choice for the post -Soviet oligarchs and directors of state-run Russian companies.
Taking on the super-rich Russians close to President Putin would hurt Russia where it is vulnerable.
There was broad unity in condemnation of Russia from other political parties in the House of Commons; more than one member called Russia a “rogue” state.
Country is outraged, and Mrs. May has the backing of the wider political establishment. But, the stand-off with Moscow threatening to turn into the worst diplomatic crisis to hit bilateral relations, Britain still needs international support from its allies.
By emphasising the “well-established pattern of Russian aggression”, including incursions on Georgian sovereignty and a cyber-attack on the German parliament, the UK is sending the message that no country is immune from “flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations”.
Talking about the vulnerabilities, gathering the widest possible international alliance against Russia is where Britain faces its biggest test.
Despite tension over Brexit, Britain received clear messages of solidarity from France and Germany.
The European Council president, Donald Tusk announced that EU leaders will discuss the issue at their summit next week.
NATO, too, expressed “deep concern” and said that the poisoning represented the first offensive use of a nerve agent on a member of the alliance since its founding in 1949.
So far, the NATO member Turkey has remained conspicuously silent on the issue.
British Ambassador to Turkey, Dominick Chilcott, went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ask the Turkish government to show solidarity in their dispute with Russia.
“Russian aggression is not only a threat to the U.K. but to all countries,” Chilcott said.
Turkey and the UK have well–established relations, a strong trade, security and defence co-operation. Both NATO members, the UK and Turkish governments describe their relationship as “strategic”.
By offering rapid and strong support to the Turkish government after the coup attempt of 15 July 2016, Britain is said to have “distinguished itself as a friend in the eyes of the Turkish government”.
Turkey may yet come up with a friendly statement, in response to the UK’s request “to say anything in public or to support action condemning it in NATO or in any other international forum such as at the UN”; there has been no sign of it so far.
On the contrary, in statements by the Foreign Minister on Wednesday, the Turkish focus has firmly been on the strength of the relationship between Russia and Turkey.
Turkey is hosting bilateral and trilateral summits with Russia next month and Russia is promising to speed up deliveries of S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to Turkey.
A Turkish diplomatic source told me that Turkey would not be in a position to go beyond merely standing by a NATO condemnation over the illegal use of chemical weapons. While the military operation is continuing in Afrin in northern Syria, Turkey could not take a firm stand against Russia. My source believes that the UK would show understanding to Turkey’s predicament.
This blog entry was updated on 15 March 2018.
This post is also available in: Turkish