Mar 8, 2018

What happens if the U.K. concludes Russia poisoned Sergei Skripal?

Skripal in Moscow District Court in 2006. He was convicted of providing information to MI6. Photo: TASS\TASS via Getty Images

Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition after being poisoned with a nerve agent in the English town of Salisbury on Sunday, and suspicion has naturally fallen on Russia.

The bottom line: Senior members of the British government have said they aren't ready to "point fingers," but that there will be a robust response if a "state actor" (ahem, Russia) is determined to be the guilty party. The question is when such a determination will be made, and what that response would look like.

The Litvinenko precedent

Alexander Litvinenko, a defector from the Russian security services and outspoken critic of the Kremlin, was murdered with radioactive polonium in London in 2006.

  • Nearly three months after Litvinenko was first poisoned, police named a former Russian spy as the prime suspect, but Russia refused to extradite him to face charges.
  • The case caused a frostiness in U.K.-Russia relations, though little action was taken publicly beyond the expulsion of four diplomats over Russia's refusal to cooperate.
This time around

BBC Security Correspondent Gordon Corera writes that the Litvinenko case "shows that expelling diplomats alone may not be regarded as much of a deterrent to future acts." 

"It may take days - even weeks - for the government to be confident enough to make a public statement, because it will not want to risk getting any details wrong. But if suspicions about Russia are confirmed, then some kind of action seems inevitable," he writes.

Corera suggests that economic sanctions on "the Russian elite" are one option, that would require significant "political will."

Axios' Steve LeVine, author of Putin's Labyrinth about the murders of Putin's enemies, says Theresa May will be in a political box if a Russian role is found:

Litvinenko caused a huge international incident and a lasting diplomatic breach. If they die, this will be murder, again, in a major Western country. The Brits could cut off relations, recall their ambassador, and so on — to which Putin would protest, "show us the facts. The West again is hysterical" — but May will be forced to take demonstrably stern action. Against the backdrop of Crimea, one might see her seek an EU-wide response, though given the changing politics on the continent, that could be hard to achieve.
What they're saying
  • Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said it would be "difficult to imagine" the U.K. would send dignitaries to the World Cup in Russia if the Putin regime is found responsible. "We will have to have a serious conversation about our engagement with Russia," he said Tuesday.
  • Home Secretary Amber Rudd was vague, saying she didn't want to get ahead of the investigation: "We will do what is appropriate, we will do what is right, if it is proved to be the case that this is state-sponsored," she said.

Worth noting: It's not just Litvinenko. In-depth investigations from Buzzfeed News document 14 Russians who died under suspicious circumstances in the U.K.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

Countries where novel coronavirus cases are falling may be hit with a "second peak" if they relax restrictions too soon, World Health Organization emergencies chief Mike Ryan warned during a briefing Monday. "We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up," he added.

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the virus as of Monday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.6 million tests). The U.K. is reporting over 36,900 deaths from the coronavirus — the most fatalities outside the U.S.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 5,498,849 — Total deaths: 346,306 — Total recoveries — 2,233,180Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 1,662,768 — Total deaths: 98,223 — Total recoveries: 379,157 — Total tested: 14,604,942Map.
  3. World: Italy reports lowest number of new cases since February — Ireland reports no new coronavirus deaths on Monday for the first time since March 21 — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: New York stock exchange to reopen its floor on Tuesday — White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
  7. What should I do? Hydroxychloroquine questions answeredTraveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 47 mins ago - Politics & Policy

LATAM Airlines files for U.S. chapter 11 bankruptcy

A LATAM air attendant aboard one of the company's planes in March. Photo: Kike Calvo/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

LATAM Airlines Group SA said in a statement early Tuesday the firm and its affiliates in in the United States, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S.

Why it matters: Latam is Latin America's largest airline and its shareholders include Delta Air Lines. CEO Roberto Alvo noted in the statement the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the airline industry.