Prime Minister Theresa May disappointed opposition activists in Russia on Wednesday by ignoring their calls to sanction Russian businessmen and officials close to President Vladimir Putin in retaliation for the attempted murder of a former spy in the English city of Salisbury.
Instead, May told Parliament, Britain’s main response to the poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia would be the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats identified as “undeclared intelligence officers.” The prime minister also stopped short of announcing a boycott of this summer’s World Cup, saying instead that members of the British royal family would not attend the tournament, which kicks off in Moscow in June.
May did promise to seek new legal powers “to impose sanctions in response to the violation of human rights,” but said that existing British laws against money laundering were strong enough to ensure that “corrupt elites” from Russia know that “there is no place for these people or their money in our country.”
"To those who seek to do us harm, my message is simple: you are not welcome here."— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) March 14, 2018
Theresa May says 23 Russian diplomats will be expelled after the nerve agent attack on a former spy in Salisbury, alongside a crackdown on "serious criminals and corrupt elites". pic.twitter.com/IZ6UEA6gyJ
By declining to announce specific economic sanctions against prominent Russian oligarchs and Kremlin officials, who own vast property wealth in London and educate their children in elite British schools, May seemed to reject the advice of anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny, who told ABC News that only such measures “would really be painful for Putin and his corrupt circle.”
Following May’s announcement, Navalny responded on Twitter, noting that “23 Russian diplomats will be expelled from Britain. 23 Russian oligarchs and corrupt officials will keep enjoying life in London.” He added, sarcastically, that once Putin heard the British royals were boycotting the World Cup, he would be reduced to tears of anguish and immediately stop killing people.
A short time later, however, Navalny seemed to have a change of heart, deleting those tweets and expressing hope that May was serious about using existing British law to pursue the wealth of Kremlin-connected elites exposed by his foundation.
The British measures also struck Russian journalists, like Alexey Kovalev and Leonid Ragozin, as inadequate.
London's infestation with Russian dirty money is crazy. Oligarchs/officials who got rich beyond belief on state contracts (there's little distinction between the two) AND their kids, wives etc are buying entire PR and law firms to intimidate reporters — I've witnessed this myself— Alexey Kovalev (@Alexey__Kovalev) March 14, 2018
London is the de-facto capital of the post-Soviet mafia state. It accumulates a lion’s share of oligarchic assets from everywhere in ex-USSR. But why tackle that, when you can pretend it’s another Cold War. That’s British government’s reaction to Skripal poisoning in a nutshell.— Leonid Ragozin (@leonidragozin) March 14, 2018
Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to the U.K., called the expulsion of diplomats “absolutely unacceptable and we consider this a provocation.”
In her remarks, May also said the Russian response to the question of how the former spy and his daughter had been exposed to a Soviet-era nerve agent in England was marked by “sarcasm, contempt, and defiance,” and “demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events.”
That tone was clear from Russian state television coverage of the proposed sanctions, before and after May’s statement.
As if to demonstrate how little he cared about any retaliatory action from the West, Putin was in Crimea as May spoke, attending a campaign rally and inspecting the bridge he’s building to the annexed Ukrainian territory.