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.