Foreign secretary warns of possible disruption to energy supplies or harassment of diplomatic missions in Moscow.
Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary, has predicted Russia will retaliate against countries that have acted in solidarity with the UK over the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal, suggesting Moscow may interfere with energy supplies, or disrupt the lives of their Moscow-based diplomats and their families.
Hailing the courage of the 27 countries that had backed Britain by taking action against Russia, he said their show of solidarity had crystallised a collective feeling across three continents that patience with Russia’s malign behaviour had come to an end.
Speaking to the Lord Mayor’s banquet at the Mansion House in London, Johnson pitched the dispute as a wider battle against Russian disruption, claiming “this week was the moment when the world decided to say enough to the wearying barrage of Russian lies, the torrent of obfuscation and intercontinental ballistic whoppers”.
He said: “It wasn’t about us. It was about all of us and the kind of world we want to live in. I believe these expulsions represent a moment when a feeling has suddenly crystallised, when years of vexation and provocation have worn the collective patience to breaking point, and when across the world – across three continents – there are countries who are willing to say enough is enough.”
Russia, he claimed, had underestimated the strength of global feeling against, and the accumulation of impatience with, Vladimir Putin’s behaviour.
In remarks that will raise the diplomatic temperature, Johnson also warned that countries that had sided with Britain “know full well that they face the risk of retaliation – and frankly there are countries that have taken action that are more vulnerable to Russia than we are, whether through geography or their energy needs”.
He said: “I pay tribute to them because they know that their own Russia-based diplomats, and their families, must now deal with the possibility of their own lives being turned upside down.”
Johnson’s remarks are likely to be seen by Moscow as intended to deepen divisions between Europe and Russia. The Russian political leadership have insisted they will prepare reprisals against the nations that have expelled Russian ambassadors, but also do not want to exacerbate bilateral relations with some countries.
Moscow continues to insist that the Russian state was not involved in the poisoning, and now claims that the UK intelligence services may have been responsible as part of an effort to shore up support for Theresa May’s government due to the difficulties it faces in uniting the country over Brexit. It also says the solidarity shown by EU countries is largely due to bullying by America, and that many countries had privately indicated they had not wished to take any measures.
Russia is also calling for access to the nerve agent novichok that the UK intelligence services say was administered to Skripal and his daughter.
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement: “Unless we receive convincing proof of the opposite, we will regard this incident as an attempt on the life of Russian citizens as part of a large-scale political provocation. We emphasise that the burden of proof rests solely on the UK.”
Johnson retorted that the Foreign Office has so far counted 24 ludicrous Russian lies about the cause of Skripal’s poisoning. He said: “It is rather like the beginning of Crime and Punishment in the sense that we are all confident of the culprit – and the only question is whether he will confess or be caught.”
Johnson put the poisoning in the context of the annexation of Crimea, the Russian intervention in Ukraine, the downing of flight MH17, cyber-attacks, the attempted coup in Montenegro, the concealing of chemical weapon attacks in Syria, the hacking of the Bundestag and interference in other countries’ elections.
He concluded: “There are now just too many countries who have felt the disruptive and malign behaviour of the Russian state.”
In a speech that was light on further measures against Russia, or a solution to the crisis, Johnson instead focused on how the episode showed the UK, once outside the EU, could remain a major player and work alongside the EU on security issues.
He argued the episode had been immensely reassuring since British people “had learned we may be leaving the EU in exactly a year but we will never be alone, and in part that commitment to Britain reflects Britain’s reciprocal commitment to our friends, whether through the work of our peerless intelligence agencies or our armed forces or our development budgets”.
He promised his EU colleagues: “We will stand by you as you have stood by us.”
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK
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