Theresa May has been continuing to call Britain’s allies today to discuss the poisoning of Sergei Skripal. She is expected to give a statement to the Commons tomorrow about Russia’s response to the allegation that the state was responsible for the attack, and has been seeking assurances that countries such as France, Germany and the United States are on her side.
This evening, she spoke to Donald Trump, who told her that ‘the US was with the UK all the way, agreeing that the Russian Government must provide unambiguous answers as to how this nerve agent came to be used’, according to the Downing Street read-out.
You can almost hear Trump saying the words ‘all the way’, but May was probably listening more keenly for things the President doesn’t appear to have said. For instance, what does ‘all the way’ actually mean in terms of the British response? Would he support a cyberattack, as has been reported as a possibility today? What about a greater military presence on the Russian border?
Similarly, the words ‘unambiguous answers’ do not inspire great confidence. It’s not quite the Jeremy Corbyn line about waiting for all the evidence (a tactic for delaying ad nauseam as one can always argue that there is insufficient evidence), but Trump is still suggesting that Russia could just explain what could have happened, rather than settling for one of the two scenarios that May had offered.
As for Russia, this evening the embassy announced that it has sent the Foreign Office a note denying involvement in the attack. It has also been tweeting some rather dark threats, including ‘any threat to take “punitive” measures against Russia will meet with a response. The British side should be aware of that’. But the argument of those on May’s side is that Russia has behaved as it has on the international stage because it hasn’t seen any real consequences for its territorial incursions or support for Bashar al-Assad. Tomorrow, the Prime Minister is likely to argue that this needs to end.
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