How can U.K. respond to Russia-linked spy attack?

Alexander Smith

LONDON — Boycotting soccer’s World Cup, seizing oligarchs’ mansions and even invoking NATO’s collective defense clause: British Prime Minister Theresa May has a range of options to retaliate against Russia for the poisoning of an ex-spy on U.K. soil.

On Monday, May said it was “highly likely” that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin was responsible for the poisoning Sergei Skripal, a former Russian double agent who passed secrets to the U.K., and his daughter, Yulia.

May then gave Russia until midnight Tuesday to explain why a Soviet-developed nerve agent was used in Britain.

“Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” she said, promising “much more extensive measures” than the U.K. has previously taken against the Kremlin.

So what are May’s options — and how could they affect the U.K.’s closest ally, the United States?

Collective defense

Perhaps the most drastic possibility is that May might invoke NATO’s mutual defense clause, Article 5. The first and only time this has been used was by President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Article 5 says that an attack against one NATO member “shall be considered an attack against them all.” Invoking it would not necessarily mean military retaliation — its wording leaves that open to interpretation — but it would certainly be a bold step.

“It’s not as if Article 5 would plunge the world into a war between Russia and NATO,” said Mark Galeotti, a senior researcher at the Institute of International Relations in Prague.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the use of any nerve agent “horrendous and completely unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, the British government has played down the possibility of invoking Article 5, according to the BBC, and then there’s the question of how President Donald Trump would react to such a call for Western solidarity.

Trump has sent jitters throughout Europe by sending mixed messages about his feelings on NATO and repeatedly calling out allies for not meeting their spending targets.

Image: Salisbury

Military personnel wearing protective suits remove a police car and other vehicles from a public car park as they continue investigations into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal on March 11, 2018 in Salisbury.