European leaders have joined their UK and US counterparts in blaming Moscow over the poisoning of a Russian former double agent in Britain, thus backing UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s statement that there was no other plausible explanation. In an unusual manifestation of solidarity with Britain, EU leaders put aside their internal differences over Russia and supported the UK amid one of the most significant foreign policy tests in recent years. This is considered a sign of the continuity of a strong defense and security partnership following Brexit.
“The European Council condemns in the strongest possible terms the recent attack in Salisbury,” EU leaders said in their statement. “It agrees with the United Kingdom government’s assessment that it is highly likely that the Russian Federation is responsible and there is no plausible alternative explanation. We stand in unqualified solidarity with the United Kingdom in the face of this grave challenge to our shared security.”
Last week, EU leaders hinted that capitals were working on their own responses to the Salisbury attack. For the time being, new EU-wide sanctions are not on the table but the leaders signaled that this could change if the Kremlin does not help facilitate investigation efforts. More importantly, more than 20 countries, including several European nations, the US and Australia, have expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in a coordinated response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy, whereby this action is described as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history. Russia vowed to retaliate to the “provocative gesture”.
In early March 2018, former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in Salisbury, England, with the chemical identified as Novichok nerve agent. Weeks after the attack, both remain in critical condition. In the aftermath of the incident, Prime Minister May expelled 23 Russian diplomats, bringing tensions between London and Moscow to their worst levels since the end of the Cold War.