UK bid to hit Krem­lin spy chiefs


Bri­tain is push­ing for new EU sanc­tions on se­nior fig­ures in Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s mil­i­tary spy net­work re­spon­si­ble for the Sal­is­bury poi­son­ing in March.

Mem­bers of the GRU se­nior lead­er­ship are on a draft list of in­di­vid­u­als to be sanc­tioned un­der a new EU regime aimed at curb­ing the use of chem­i­cal weapons, say diplo­matic sources.

Bri­tain hopes to se­cure the back­ing of France and Ger­many for the sanc­tions. It is press­ing for other for­eign min­is­ters to ap­prove freez­ing as­sets and ban­ning travel for the named se­nior Rus­sian spies within weeks.

For­eign Sec­re­tary Jeremy Hunt met min­is­ters from for­mer Soviet states, in­clud­ing Hun­gary, in Lon­don last month to dis­cuss new sanc­tions. Half a dozen named in­di­vid­u­als in­volved in the novi­chok at­tack on for­mer dou­ble agent Sergei Skri­pal and his daugh­ter Yu­lia are likely to be tar­geted, ac­cord­ing to a min­is­ter.

Pub­li­ca­tion of the list, ex­pected next month, is likely to be the first of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion of the iden­tity of the two main sus­pects, named by the web­site Belling­cat as Ana­toliy Chep­iga and Alexan­der Mishkin.

Bob Seely, a Con­ser­va­tive mem­ber of the House of Com­mons for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee, said that the sanc­tions should reach to the top of the or­ga­nis- ation. “You clearly need a bal­ance be­tween what is achiev­able and what is re­al­is­tic, but it needs to be ef­fec­tive and cred­i­ble.

“At the very least you need to have a sys­tem which in­cludes the mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal chain of com­mand for those re­spon­si­ble, up to and in­clud­ing the se­niors. If not, you will have a sys­tem whereby the peo­ple at the bot­tom get to carry the can for those at the top. No one is re­al­is­ti­cally talk­ing about putting heads of state on trial, but if you don’t have se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and po­lit­i­cal fa­cil­i­ta­tors in­cluded, such a sys­tem is not cred­i­ble.

“To make it ro­bust you need to give it teeth. You need to send sig­nals to au­thor­i­tar­ian states that if the se­nior mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal sup­port staff are im­plicit they will pay an in­di­vid­ual price.”

The re­sponse among Euro­pean al­lies to the Sal­is­bury poi­son­ing has var­ied. While most coun­tries ex­pelled Rus­sian diplo­mats in con­junc­tion with Bri­tain, Aus­tria, which re­gards it­self as Rus­sia’s bridge to Eu­rope, did not. Mr Putin has held four pri­vate meet­ings with­Aus­trian Chan­cel­lor Se­bas­tian Kurz over the past 12 months, and danced with For­eign Min­is­ter Karin Kneissl at her wed­ding in Au­gust.

GRU chief Igor Korobov was added to the US sanc­tions list in De­cem­ber 2016 over “ef­forts to un­der­mine democ­racy” by or­gan­is­ing hack­ing dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

In to­tal, six cur­rent and for­mer GRU of­fi­cials have been sanc­tioned by the US over their roles in al­leged Krem­lin med­dling in the elec­tion. The sanc­tions for­mally bar them from trav­el­ling to the US and freeze any as­sets they may have in the US. Amer­i­can cit­i­zens are also barred from do­ing busi­ness with them.

How­ever, Mr Korobov and other Rus­sian spy agency chiefs trav­elled to Wash­ing­ton in Jan­uary to dis­cuss the war against ter­ror­ism with US of­fi­cials.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion im­posed more sanc­tions against Mr Korobov in March. In Septem­ber he and 12 sus­pected GRU agents were sanc­tioned again. They were named in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by US spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller into Rus­sian at­tempts to in­flu­ence the 2016 elec­tion.

Igor Ser­gun, the GRU chief dur­ing Rus­sia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, was sanc­tioned by the US and the EU in 2014.

In the same year the EU sanc­tioned Igor Strelkov, iden­ti­fied as a GRU of­fi­cer, over his role in Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary in­cur­sion into eastern Ukraine. He com­manded Rus­sian forces that seized the Ukrainian city of Slovyansk.



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