In a bizarre case that would normally be expected to grace the pages of an espionage thriller, a Russian double agent and his daughter were found in medical distress on a park bench in Salisbury, UK on 4/3/18. They were taken to a local hospital for treatment, but it was quickly determined that foul play was afoot…
Over the intervening period, a third person, a police officer, was also treated for exposure to a hazardous substance; he too is stable, but critical; sections of the city and specific locations were cordoned off and a significant number of local citizens were given medical checks (131). It emerged that the couple had been deliberately poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok; presumably with the intention of killing the former spy Sergei Skripal (one assumes his daughter was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time). It is natural to assume that such a move must have been ordered at the highest level by the Russian government, but no definitive evidence of this has been put in the public domain.
Based on the information at her disposal, Mrs May demanded that the Russians explain themselves and if the nerve agent could have fallen into the wrong hands. When no explanation was forthcoming, the UK government decided that it would make 23 Russian diplomatic staff persona non grata on the basis that they were active spies in the UK and expel them from the UK.
European allies have been quick to condemn what is being cited as the first use of a nerve agent on European soil since the end of World War II – the US slightly less so. Russia has been accused of meddling in the Brexit vote (agitating for a leave vote); the French Presidential elections; the US Presidential elections and (most recently) a cyber attack on US energy companies and the power grid.
The USA has placed sanctions on 19 individuals over its allegations. It is probable that the EU will agree to strengthen existing sanctions on Russia which it imposed after Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. The extent of any fresh sanctions could have an effect on the Russian economy. The Rouble has weakened against the Euro since the scandal broke from 69.6 to the Euro before the news broke to 70.74 currently. However, it has been steadily weakening from a recent high of 59.66 in April of last year.