Russian spy attack response from West sends the message, ‘We are on to you’: expert
Western countries that have over the past week denounced the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the United Kingdom are “not stupid,” and are right to look past the denials issued by Russian officials, says one expert.
In an interview with The West Block, Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, said the reactions of U.K. allies including Canada in statements issued in response to the poisonings of Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, show that “we weren’t going to be duped by some Russian story.”
“I thought this was a strong message and most of all, it told Russia, ‘We are on to you,’” he said.
“Just because you deny things doesn’t mean most of the Western world gives you plausible deniability as if you were in a legal setting of a court of law. We’re not stupid. We can figure out that if there’s only one place this nerve agent is made, and you’ve got a habit of state-sponsored assassinations against your enemies, we have no reason to think anybody else did this but Russia.”
WATCH BELOW: Britain expels 23 Russian diplomats over chemical attack on ex-spy
Police in the United Kingdom have deemed the attack an attempted murder using Novichuk, a class of military-grade nerve agents manufactured by Russia.
Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that prevent the nervous system from performing normal functions.
These chemicals can be fatal and can take the form of powder or gas, although they are normally found in liquid form.
Although Russia has denied any involvement in the incident, the Kremlin vowed to retaliate against any measures targeting Russia in response to the attack. And on Saturday, Russia expelled 23 U.K. diplomats.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement on Wednesday calling the attack “despicable” and adding that Canada agreed with the assessment by British officials that Russia was “likely” responsible.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement the following day, calling Russia’s behaviour “unlawful and unacceptable.”
That release came on the heels of a joint statement issued by the leaders of the U.K., the U.S., Germany and France condemning the attack.
WATCH: Russian denials of British attack ‘increasingly absurd,’ Johnson says
The U.S.-imposed sanctions on Thursday against 19 individuals and five entities including the Internet Research Agency, the Russian entity blamed for the co-ordinated spread of misinformation in order to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
While the laying of sanctions was not specifically about the Russian spy attack but rather in retaliation for cyberattacks and attempts at electoral interference, O’Hanlon said the response was fitting given the timing.
“He gets touchy and testy about the 2016 election, for perhaps obvious reasons,” he said. “On this issue, it’s separate. This issue is a specific act of violence on the territory of a NATO ally against a person that Russia had no business and no right to attack, so I’m glad that President Trump just called it like it is.”
The question that remains, he said, is what happens now.
Many of the aggressive actions Putin has taken in Syria and Eastern Europe might make strategic sense in the short term but the effects of retaliatory measures, like the sanctions placed on Russia for the 2014 annexation of Crimea, will have over time, made the question of what will happen next, one that remains unanswered.
“I believe the long game is where Putin is weakest,” O’Hanlon said.
“The actions he’s taken … have rendered Russia far more cut off from the world economy, put Russia’s economy into a bit of a tailspin, [and] really weakened Russia’s ability to integrate with the outside world.”
Those could eventually carry heavy costs for Putin, he warned.
“He’s not so good at figuring out where this leaves Russia five or 10 years down the road.”
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