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Tension Increases Between Moscow And London


Moscow is returning fire after 23 of its diplomats were expelled from the U.K. following a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in England. The Kremlin has now expelled the same number of British diplomats and announced it will shutter the British consulate in St. Petersburg. It will also close the Russian office of the British Council, which promotes the U.K.'s culture overseas.

Joining us via Skype to discuss the rising tension between Moscow and London is Tom Tugendhat. He is a Conservative Party member of the British Parliament and the chair of the foreign affairs select committee. Welcome to the program, sir.

TOM TUGENDHAT: Good morning. How are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Very well. This attack in Salisbury, are you confident that this was an act of the Russian government?

TUGENDHAT: Well, we're very confident that the agent was produced by Russian authorities. And we are very confident that it has been under the control of the Russian government in the past. So we are pretty confident, yes, that this is an act conducted by the Russian government, authorized, we presume, at the highest levels given the toxicity of this substance and the fact that had it fallen into the wrong hands, it could have killed hundreds and hundreds of people. And we know very well that Russia has kept a very careful control over their nuclear, chemical weapons. And we know that that's very sensible given that they're (unintelligible) civil war in (unintelligible) they're facing (unintelligible) gang battles, as we know, between various parts of the regime.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should say that the line isn't the greatest, but we'll press on. Do you think Prime Minister Theresa May's move to expel Russian diplomats was the appropriate response? And if not, what should be done in your view?

TUGENDHAT: Well, I think it was an important start. I don't think it was the final response because what we now need to do is we now need to target sanctions as well. We need to target sanctions against those who are linked to the Kremlin regime, which, of course, has stolen hundreds of billions of dollars. (Unintelligible) the best part of twenty years to enrich itself and to impoverish the Russian people. So what we need to do is to make sure that they aren't able to use the financing capabilities of London or, indeed, the, luxuries of Western Europe or, indeed, the United States to hide their ill-gotten gains. And this is where people like Garry Kasparov and Bill Browder have been very clear on calling for what's called the Magnitsky Act to make sure that those who are involved with human rights abuses cannot hide their stolen wealth in the West.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some people in your country like Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, though, have warned against an escalation. You know, he says this could end very badly. Are you concerned about the end game of these moves? I mean, where does it go if there is this continuing tit for tat?

TUGENDHAT: I'm very concerned about it. And I'm very concerned that having failed to stand up to Putin now for - on many occasions including after he murdered or ordered the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 or attempted to murder the Montenegrin prime minister a few years ago, after he invaded Ukraine, invaded and occupied Georgia, kidnapped an Estonian border guard and even now is supporting the Assad regime as he gasses and murders children and civilians around the Anglo release in Ghouta. I'm very concerned that if we do not stand up to this man, where will we end up?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vladimir Putin is expected to be re-elected today in Russia. Will there be a congratulatory phone call between the two leaders? What is the state of relations?

TUGENDHAT: I would be very surprised if there were a congratulatory phone call firstly, on the grounds that this is a man who has done more to harm Russia and Anglo-Russian relations than anyone else, secondly, because let's face it. This is not an election. This election was rigged many, many, many, months and years ago when the various opponents of his regime were locked up and imprisoned. When Boris Nemtsov was murdered, when journalists were either silenced into supporting the Kremlin or murdered, you know, this is not an election in any real sense. This is a complete fraud of an election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: British MP Tom Tugendhat, thank you so much for speaking with us. And again, we apologize to our listeners for the line. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.