HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
On the afternoon of the March 4, British citizen Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, were found critically ill on a park bench.
Upon investigation, it appears that they had been poisoned with a deadly nerve agent, later identified by British intelligence as A-234; a powder that can kill within minutes, derived from poison which was developed in Soviet Russia and the Russian Federation from between 1971 and 1993.
Sergei and his daughter are in a critical, but stable condition, brought back from the brink of death by our wonderful National Health Service.
Brave policeman Nick Bailey, who was also poisoned at the scene, has now, thankfully, been discharged from hospital.
The Russian reaction to these events – characterised by posturing, sarcastic bravado, and avoidance of questions – has led many, including now the countries of the EU, to conclude that it is “highly likely (that) Russia is responsible”.
Such a crime would certainly be consistent with the approach of the modern Russian state. Vlamdir Putin has perpetuated a narrative which claims that he saved Russia from chaos when he succeeded Boris Yeltsin as President in 2000.
He has justified his brand of authoritarianism under the guise of protecting his people from a decadent and frivolous West.
As a result, Russia is turning away from the tradition that gave us Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninov, towards Putin’s advocacy of a Eurasian Russia, culturally distinctive and capable of putting right (alleged) old wrongs.
As Labour MP Chris Bryant said: “The Russian Federation has managed to combine all the worst facets of Communism, and all the worst facets of rampant capitalism, all wrapped up inside a national security state which keeps it people poor and kills…political opponents.”
Responding to the Salisbury poisoning, Theresa May announced; the expulsion of 23 “undeclared intelligence officers”, the suspension of bilateral relations, a toughening of financial/defence/energy sector sanctions, maintaining the arms embargo, further restrictions on high-tech goods, and the withdrawal of British dignitaries attending the World Cup in Russia. On top of this, the government is already tackling money laundering; making it easier to seize criminals’ money from banks, and setting up the National Economic Crime Centre.
As Security Minister when my responsibilities included countering cyber-crime, mindful of the risks posed by hostile powers, we devised the National Cyber Security Strategy, with a view to averting and resisting cyber threats, deterring our adversaries, and developing our skills and capabilities.
We must ensure that the UK is secure and resilient to cyber threats. This is made all the more important given the rise of Russian hacking, and the growing problem of cyber-attacks that the former chief of the General Staff, Sir Nick Carter, recently highlighted.
What happens next will, of course, be coloured by the outcome of the investigation into the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
If the Russian state is found, beyond all doubt, to be the culprit, then action must be taken to shut down their ability to operate in the UK, their opportunities to broadcast, and the character of their diplomatic presence here must be brought into question.
We should forever be bold and resolute in facing down those that threaten our nation.