(post updated below).
Looks like Theresa May is done “working through the details” (to quote Sarah Sanders) of who was responsible for an attempted assassination on U.S. soil. The culprit? One Vladimir Putin — and there are going to be consequences.
British Prime Minister Theresa May announced punitive measures against Russia on Wednesday over the chemical weapon attack on Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury. Speaking on the floor of the British Parliament, May said Russia had provided “no credible explanation” as to how the powerful Novichok chemical nerve agent came to be used in Britain, saying, “instead they have treated the use of a military grade chemical agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt.”
She said it was part of a “well established pattern” of Russian actions and that she and her cabinet had “agreed immediate actions to dismantle Russian espionage operations in the U.K.” — Britain was formally expelling 23 Russian diplomats who were identified as “undeclared” intelligence agents.
. . . .
May said Britain would not cut all diplomatic contact with Russia, but it would curtail “all planned high level bilateral contacts,” including revoking an invite to Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov. In addition, she said no members of the royal family or the cabinet would attend the soccer World Cup this summer in Russia.
Although Donald Trump did not go as far as Rex Tillerson in recent days to put the blame squarely on the Russian government, he did express support to May in a phone call. Now that May has pointed the finger directly at Putin’s Russia, the world looks to Trump to see how he will respond.
Generic “we stand with our British allies” statements are all well and good and to be expected. And nobody is expecting us to expel diplomats. The real question is: will Trump actually stand up in public and unequivocally say Putin was responsible for this attack?
I’m going to go out on a small limb and say no. Based on his past attitude towards Putin, we won’t be seeing Trump issuing a clear statement of blame. At best, we’ll get the usual Delphic word-salad pronouncement that will be open to interpretation.
And what Trump says is really all that matters, as Garry Kasparov explains:
Honestly, Pompeo, Tillerson, whatever. Putin is a mafia boss and only cares about what another boss has to say. Anything Trump's admin says about Putin is nearly irrelevant as long as Trump himself refuses to stand up to Putin.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) March 13, 2018
I predict that, by the end of the day, many of those who called for Trump to stand shoulder to shoulder with May will explain that this is really England’s problem, and that of course Trump shouldn’t directly accuse Putin. He doesn’t have the evidence that England has! It’s bad for diplomacy! Yada yada. I can already hear it.
I’d love to be proved wrong. I don’t think I will be.
UPDATE: Nikki Haley, representing the administration at the U.N., blasted Russia Wednesday, leaving no wiggle room.
She says the government holds Russia responsible, and that the U.N. must hold them accountable. What is left is for President Trump to say the same. He has to, and with his own mouth. Still waiting…
(This post has been updated.)