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Spy poisoning: How could the UK retaliate against Russia?

BBC World News/Mar. 13, 2018  

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is braced to take "extensive measures" against Russia should it not offer a credible explanation of how an ex-spy and his daughter were poisoned on British soil with a military-grade nerve agent.

"Should there be no credible response," Mrs May told parliament, "we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom".

But what are the options available for the UK - both on its own, and with the help of allies? And how likely are the US, EU and others to be on board?


What could the UK do?

Britain could expel Russian diplomats, as it did after the poisoning of former Russian Federal Security Service operative Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 with radioactive polonium.

But many argue that this, and the other measures that were taken after that killing - including visa restrictions on Russian officials - did not go far enough. The man identified as the main suspect, Andrei Lugovoi, is not just at large, he is now a Russian MP.

It could also:

Expel senior diplomats, perhaps even the Russian ambassador, Alexander Yakovenko, and known Russian intelligence agents

Take some sort of action to bar wealthy Russian oligarchs from accessing their mansions and other luxuries in London, as suggested by Tory MP and House of Commons foreign affairs committee chair Tom Tugendhat. One way this could happen is through the use of Unexplained Wealth Orders, which allow government officials to seize assets including property until they have been properly accounted for

A boycott of the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year by officials and dignitaries - a symbolic move that UK allies are unlikely to emulate

Pass a British version of the 2012 US Magnitsky act, which punishes Russians involved in corruption and human rights violations with asset freezes and travel bans. It is named after a Russian lawyer who died in custody after revealing alleged fraud by state officials. MPs have been pushing for a Magnitsky amendment to be added to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill now going through Parliament

Taking Russian broadcasters such as RT (formerly Russia Today) off the air - broadcasting regulator Ofcom has said it will "consider the implications for RT's broadcast licenses" after Mrs May speaks on Wednesday. Moscow has threatened to bar all British media from working in Russia if RT is targeted.


Could the EU impose new sanctions?

Current sanctions on Russia that Britain supports are imposed via the European Union. They were first passed after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The measures target Russia's state finances, energy and arms sectors and include:

The exclusion of state banks from raising long-term loans in the EU

A ban on exports of dual-use equipment that could be put to military use and a ban on EU-Russia arms deals

A ban on exports of a wide range of oil industry technology

Western asset freezes and travel bans on 150 people, including senior officials, and 38 companies


EU countries are already divided on the sanctions, with diverging views among members as to how Russia should be treated. States like Hungary, Italy and Greece have all supported the weakening of sanctions.

Some doubt whether Britain could convince the bloc to further toughen its measures against Moscow, especially with the UK on its way out of the union.

Additionally, diplomats quoted by Reuters news agency said attributing the attack to Moscow was difficult, which reduced the chances of support for additional sanctions.

However, the office of the EU foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said the EU was "ready to offer support if requested", while European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans said: "We cannot have nerve gas being used in our societies. This should be addressed by all of us."


Could Nato act?

By framing the poisoning as a possible "unlawful use of force" by Russia against the UK, Theresa May prompted questions as to whether this could be a matter for Nato, the military alliance of 29 countries.

The alliance's policy of collective defence - under Article 5 - states that an attack on any one ally is seen as an attack on all.

It was invoked for the first and only time by the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

Lord Ricketts, a former UK national security adviser, told the BBC that such an "unlawful act" warranted the involvement of Nato.

Any action "will be much more effective if there can be a broader, Nato-EU solidarity behind us", he said.

But Downing Street has played down suggestions that this is an Article 5 matter.

For its part, Nato has called the attack "horrendous and completely unacceptable". Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the incident was of "great concern" to the alliance, which has moved in recent years to deter Russia by sending troops to Poland and the three Baltic states.

Lord Ricketts suggested one option involving Nato could be a reinforcement of resources on the group's eastern flank.

The UK could also seek to bring the issue to the UN - and seek to gather international support for action against Russia.

Theresa May has already spoken to France's President Emmanuel Macron and the two leaders "agreed that it would be important to continue to act in concert with allies", according to Downing Street.

Mrs May spoke to US President Donald Trump about the issue on Tuesday, with a US spokesman saying the leader told her "the US was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used".

The UK has already made the matter international by asking Russia to provide a "full and complete disclosure" of the Novichok nerve agent programme to an international agency, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Indeed, the magnitude of the response that was set to be announced on Wednesday will depend on the scale of international co-operation that Mrs May can secure, says BBC Diplomatic correspondent James Landale.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders called the attack an "outrage" and, on the day before his removal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the attack "clearly came from Russia".

Speaking before the call with Mrs May, President Donald Trump said: "As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be."

And in Canada . . . 

Mysterious disappearance of Indigenous children raises 'fundamental' questions, MMIWG commissioner says

50 years later, Pikogan family still wants to know what happened to 2 siblings sent to hospital in Amos

By Adam Frisk/Global News/Feb. 13, 2018

It's been half a century, but Françoise Ruperthouse still doesn't know what happened to two of her siblings.

"At our house, there were always two empty chairs," Ruperthouse, who grew up in the remote Algonquin community of Pikogan, north of Val-d'Or, said Tuesday at the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls.

In the late 1950s, at age two or three, her brother Tony was airlifted to the hospital in Amos, Que., to be treated for a respiratory infection. The family was living in the bush, outside of Pikogan, at the time.

Tony never came home.

"There was no body; there was nothing, no certificate. We were just told, 'Your baby is dead,'" Ruperthouse told the inquiry.

But Ruperthouse later discovered, through medical records, that Tony had been transferred to the hospital in Baie-Saint-Paul, where he stayed for more than five years before he died at the age of seven.

A year or so after Tony, Ruperthouse's sister Emily, then five, was taken to the hospital in Amos to be treated for an allergic reaction to a bee sting.

Emily wasn't seen again for 30 years, until health authorities in Baie-Saint-Paul contacted the health centre in Pikogan looking for her family. By the time she and her family were reunited, her health had deteriorated. She died in 2000.

The mystery of their disappearances has haunted her family, Ruperthouse said, and she wants answers before her 84-year-old mother, Hélène-Joséphine, dies.

"They suffered from guilt and regret," Ruperthouse said of her parents.

Similar cases across Canada

Michèle Audette, the commissioner of the inquiry, said she's heard similar stories as the inquiry has moved across the country.

Radio-Canada's investigative program Enquête detailed cases of Atikamekw children on Quebec's North Shore who were sent to the hospital by float plane without their parents.

Upon their release, some disappeared, placed with white families without their parents' consent. One of them was even declared dead when he was still very much alive.

Audette said the commission will use its powers to force both the federal and provincial governments to hand over any documentation that will shed light on the Ruperthouse family's case.

"It's fundamental, and these are questions we will ask," she said, adding that the commission will, ultimately, make recommendations to address the mistreatment of Indigenous children by Canadian health care institutions.

More than 70 people are expected to testify this week at the Bonaventure Hotel in Montreal - either in public, in private to inquiry staff or in writing.

The national hearings began in 2016 and, last week, organizers requested a two-year extension.