The UK was braced for a showdown with Russia on Wednesday after a midnight deadline set by Prime Minister Theresa May expired without an explanation from Moscow about how a Soviet-era nerve toxin was used to strike down a former Russian double agent.
Russia, which denied any involvement in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter with Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military, said it was not responding to May’s ultimatum until it received samples of the nerve agent, in effect challenging Britain to show what sanctions it would impose against Russian interests.
“Moscow had nothing to do with what happened in Britain. It will not accept any totally unfounded accusations directed against it and will also not accept the language of ultimatums,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday according to Reuters. He added, however, that Russia remained open to cooperating with Britain in investigating the poisoning, blaming the British authorities for refusing to share information.
Russia’s Interfax news agency reported the Russian embassy in London planned to ask for consular access to Yulia Skripal, Sergei’s daughter.
Britain’s response to the expiry of the deadline and lack of explanation from Moscow was expected to be announced by May in parliament later, after May convened a meeting of the National Security Council at her Downing Street office in the morning. Furthermore, Bloomberg reported that the U.K. has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to update Council members on the investigation into the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, the U.K. Foreign Office said in a tweet.
The UK has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to update Council members on the investigation into the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. pic.twitter.com/jFQ2HA4JV0
In retaliation, it is possible that London could call on Western allies for a coordinated response, freeze the assets of Russian business leaders and officials, limit their access to London’s financial center, expel diplomats and even launch targeted cyber attacks. Furthermore, as Boris Johnson threatened, the UK may also cut back participation in the soccer World Cup, which Russia is hosting in June and July.
Meanwhile, as Reuters notes, the UK has already started its retaliation:
BRITAIN TO EXPEL SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF RUSSIAN DIPLOMATS THOUGH NOT AS MANY AS IN 1971 - SKY NEWS REPORTER SAYS