The UK could launch "offensive cyber operations" against Russia as part of a series of retaliatory measures after investigators concluded that Russia used Novichok, a class of nerve agent, on UK soil to murder a defector.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said that if Russia fails to satisfy the UK on its involvement in the use of the nerve agent, the act would be seen as "an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom".
An act of war by Russia
Terming the use of a nerve agent, which was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, as "an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom", May said in Parliament yesterday that Britain will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on its soil.
"Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world-leading experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent and would still be capable of doing so, Russia's record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.
"This attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil," she said.
Yesterday, the government summoned the Russian ambassador to the UK to the Foreign Office to explain the use of a Soviet nerve agent on UK soil and to clarify if the attack was carried out upon the directions of the Russian state.
Following up on her statements in Parliament yesterday, May confirmed a few moments ago that high-level contacts with Russia will be cancelled and as many as 23 Russian diplomats will be expelled as they have been identified as "undeclared intelligence officers". She added that the government would consider an anti-espionage legislation and would increase checks on Russians visiting the UK in the future.
Is a cyber offensive on the cards?
Even though Theresa May did not expressly say so, BBC diplomatic correspondent James Landale said on BBC TV News at Ten last night that retaliatory actions by Britain could include “offensive cyber-operations against Russia” and that Downling Street had not ruled out such an option.
Landale's statement followed a statement by the government during the opening of a new cyber defence school on 8th March when it said that "Cyber-threats to the UK are constantly evolving and we take them very seriously. That's why the Defence Cyber School is so important. It's a state-of-the-art centre of excellence that will train more personnel across Defence and wider government in dealing with emerging threats."
As per latest reports, the UK has called for an urgent security council meeting to apprise council members, including Russia, about the results of the investigation into the killing of a former Russian spy who had reportedly defected. Reportedly, US President Donald Trump said that his country would support any actions the UK will take to punish those "who use these heinous weapons in flagrant violation of international norms".