Theresa May must respond to a hit Amber Rudd dubbed “brazen and reckless”
The Tory leader told ministers to prepare a powerful response across diplomatic, economic and military fronts to punish the Salisbury incident.
Intelligence chiefs are apparently “a few days” away from establishing hard proof that the poisoned plot was ordered by Moscow.
Yesterday, Home Secretary Amber Rudd tarred the occurrence “a brazen and reckless act”.
Senior Whitehall sources have said the PM accepts she must initiate a response to match the public uproar.
In the wake of a chemical weapons attack from another state on British soil, her approach is expected to be three-tiered.
Firstly, there will be an immediate expulsion of senior Russian diplomats and spies.
This may potentially include cancelling Kremlin-linked oligarchs’ visas to London alongside asset freezes and travel bans.
Secondly, there will be a statement of collective condemnation from Britain’s closest allies – France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German leader Angela Merkel.
Lastly, and in the longer term, May will be likely to boost Britain’s military deployments in Eastern Europe with more jets and troops, including push for a NATO-wide reinforcement at the alliance’s summit in July.
Military scientists at Porton Down expect to doubtlessly confirm that the rare poison was devised in the SVR Russian foreign spy service’s notorious Yasenevo labs in Moscow.
One senior minister said: “We are in a new Cold War with Russia that is beginning to get hot.
“We need to completely overhaul our posture to reflect that.
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“This is all about debilitating the West, so we have to reverse the psychology and make Putin look weak.
“Putin doesn’t dare attack the US, so he goes for us instead because of all the government’s current troubles.
“It is crucial we are seen to stand up to that.”
Amid fears of continued attacks, spy bosses are reportedly working non-stop to understand a Kremlin masterplan behind the attempted murder of Colonel Skripal and daughter Yulia.
The Russian president’s “wet job” order has shaken MI5 and MI6, who need to understand the motives behind the attack and poison’s complexity – presuming he knew it would quickly be traced back to Moscow.
Under Russian law, foreign assassinations can only be authorised by the President himself.
Because of this, a senior security source has dubbed the nerve agent hit a “seriously balls in your face” move.
The source added: “Why have they done this? What is their next move?
“This is what we’re trying to work out now.
“Putin is, without doubt, a deluded individual, and that makes him dangerous.”
Last night, the MoD, Treasury, Foreign Office and Home Office all worked to draw up a series of options for the PM’s retaliation.
In hopes to spur potential action at the UN and encourage other European allies to join in of the UK’s statement of condemnation, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is preparing a large-scale telephone lobbying operation.
An extensive list of Russian figures to expel, from declared SVR intelligence officers to oligarchs who back Mr Putin, are also being compiled by diplomats and MI5 officials.
The full intelligence assessment is believed to be delivered to May by the weekend, giving her the final decision on how many to lose.
In an effort to strengthen defences against Russia, defence chiefs are also looking to deploy an additional squadron of Typhoon jets to Estonia and an extra Army battalion to Poland or Romania.
If Russia is proved to be behind the attack, backbench Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh said it would be “a brazen act of war.”
Senior Tories have even called for Russia’s ambassador to be kicked out and his embassy closed down.
Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind said it was “becoming progressively more difficult to contemplate normal diplomatic relations with such a government”, accusing Putin of “behaving like a rogue state.”
Addressing MPs in an emergency Commons statement, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “The use of a nerve agent on UK soil was a brazen and reckless act.”
Significantly, she also refused to ignore mounting speculation about Moscow’s involvement on more than one occasion.
The life-threatening hit on Sergei Skripal has garnered massive police and political attention
Instead, she told MPs: “There will come a time for attribution, and further consequences will then follow.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson told ITV1’s Good Morning Britain that President Putin’s regime posed an “ever greater threat” to Britain and the UK must not be “pushed around” by another nation.
The Russian embassy tweeted: “When Boris Berezovsky and Alexander Perepilichny died in Britain, there was a lot of speculation in the media, then all the conclusions were classified, and no data provided to Russia.
“Same happening now, with MI6 agent Sergei Skripal poisoning.”