What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Expelling diplomats over ex-spy attack will do ‘catastrophic damage’ to Russia in UK, says ambassador

British Prime Minister Theresa May leveled her diplomatic fire at Moscow on Wednesday in retribution for the apparent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter. Libby Wiener of Independent Television News reports and UK Ambassador to the U.S. Sir Kim Darroch joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the evidence behind the accusation and the government’s move to punish Russia.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Ten days after the apparent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter, British Prime Minister Theresa May has leveled her diplomatic fire at Moscow.

    Among her decisions today, she expelled Russian diplomats, suspended high-level contacts with Moscow, and said the government would use new powers to stop intelligence agents in Britain and to freeze Russian assets used to harm people in the United Kingdom.

    Libby Wiener of Independent Television News reports.

  • Libby Wiener:

    The Russian Embassy in London, where more than a third of the diplomats today were ordered to pack their bags and leave within a week.

    With the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia fighting for their lives in hospital, the prime minister had promised to get tough on Russia. Today, she headed to the Commons to show she meant what she said.

  • Prime Minister Theresa May:

    The United Kingdom will now expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers. They have just one week to leave. This will be the single biggest expulsion for over 30 years.

  • Libby Wiener:

    And there was no doubt whom she held responsible.

  • Prime Minister Theresa May:

    It is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way. But we will not tolerate the threat to life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian government, nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations.

  • Libby Wiener:

    The Foreign Office itself was busy today putting out messages on social media attacking what it called Russian state aggression, that in response to Russia’s Twitter denials about the poisoning of Sergei Skripal.

    Independent observers say relations have reached a new low, some aspects actually worse than during the Cold War.

  • Malcolm Chambers:

    Spies who were swapped as part of a formal process during the Cold War were then left in peace to enjoy their retirement. So it’s a breach of that norm, which was actually quite important.

  • Libby Wiener:

    The prime minister returned to Downing Street knowing that Russia may well respond in kind.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That report from Libby Wiener of Independent Television News.

    Earlier this evening, I spoke with the British ambassador to the U.S., Sir Kim Darroch.

    I began by asking him about the evidence the U.K. has linking Russia to the attack.

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    It’s solid. You can be sure of that.

    It involves several days of investigation. Remember, this appalling attack happened more than a week ago. And police have been working intensively since then.

    The nerve agent involved, by the way, is known to be associated with Russia, to be manufactured in Russia. We gave the Russian authorities 24 hours to respond. They didn’t basically take this seriously. They were contemptuous in attitude.

    So, we are in no doubt about their culpability and about the conclusions we have drawn and the action we have taken.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How much more does your government know about who exactly did this?

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    Well, we will carry on with the investigations.

    There is no more that we can say than the prime minister said in the House of Commons this morning. But, as she said, we believe there’s a very high likelihood of Russian responsibility, of Russian culpability here. And that was enough to trigger the response that you heard today.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, what your prime minister announced, taking measures against the Russians, suspending high-level contacts, expelling 23 Russian diplomats, no British ministers or royals are going to attend the World Cup soccer tournament or championship in Russia this summer.

    Why these measures in particular right now?

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    Well, it’s the right moment to respond to — in terms of the expulsion of Russian diplomats.

    We believe these individuals were actually undeclared intelligence agents. So that seems to me a wholly appropriate residence response to what has happened.

    And in light of what has happened, which, remember, was an attack on two innocent civilians, it involved first-responders — one of them is gravely ill — there is actually a threat, a risk for all the people living in this town.

    I mean, you couldn’t expect us to do less than the steps we have taken, the expulsions, the freeze on high-level contacts, and the announcement that no senior British visitors will attend the World Cup.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, some are saying that your government could have gone further and made an even tougher and even harsher point with what it did.

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    Well, I’m not sure about that.

    This is the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats for 30 years. So it’s a pretty big clear-out, and it will do catastrophic damage to Russian activity in the U.K. So it seems to me measured and appropriate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As I mentioned, the Russians are denying everything.

    I’m quoting from their Foreign Ministry today. They’re saying, “The British government has opted for confrontation,” and they said that their response is not long in coming.

    It almost sounds as if they plan some kind of retaliation. Do you expect that?

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    Well, the appropriate response from them would be a comprehensive apology, a promise to pursue those responsible, and an inquiry into what happened.

    Look, you may be right. Maybe that’s not going to happen. But I don’t think any kind of retaliation would be appropriate, given, as I said, the very high likelihood of Russian state involvement in this and Russian responsibility for this appalling attack.

    And, as I say, don’t discount the fact that it was a threat not just to individuals who are now gravely ill in hospital, but to the population of this town. This is simply unacceptable for this kind of thing to happen on British soil.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What about the U.S. role here? The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, said today that the U.S. is 100 percent behind its British ally.

    And we know that the administration is looking at what else to say. The president hasn’t made a final statement yet. But what do you — what is your expectation what the U.S. might do?

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    The prime minister talked to the president a couple of days back, took him through what we thought had happened, and the likelihood of our attributing this to Russia.

    He said that he was 100 percent with us, for which we are hugely grateful. And we thought that Nikki Haley’s comments in the U.N. Security Council this afternoon were absolutely everything we would have hoped for, and were absolutely appropriate to the gravity of what’s happened.

    So we applaud what Nikki Haley said and how she — how she characterized these events.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you expect more from the U.S., more sanctions?

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    Let’s — let’s wait and see on that, but we’re very grateful for the support we have had from this administration to date.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mr. Ambassador, I also want to ask you about the — that there’s this impression, if one reads the stories about the number of Russian oligarchs, wealthy Russians living in Great Britain right now, basically that London has become a popular haven for Russia’s wealthy.

    Has Britain been too lenient in terms of letting Russian nationals come and go pretty freely up until now?

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    I don’t think we have been too lenient or too free on that. And people of all nationalities come and live in London. It’s an international city. And we welcome anyone who wants to come in our country who lives within the law and brings something to the U.K.

    But, as part of response to what has happened in Salisbury, and part of the measures we will look at in the future, we will look at measures like whether we have sufficient defenses at our borders, and whether we need new powers over, for example, suspending bank accounts and that kind of thing.

    But that’s all for further examination for the future.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sir Kim Darroch, the ambassador of Great Britain, of the United Kingdom, to the United States, thank you very much.

  • Sir Kim Darroch:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment

Latest News