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May weighs Russia sanctions

An attack on an ex-spy has rocked UK-Russia relations, says Matthew Partridge.

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Theresa May: furious language, but token measures

Over the past five years Russian president Vladimir Putin has "meddled in a US presidential election, annexed Crimea, threatened nuclear war and mandated individual killings", of which the Salisbury poisonings of former spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, are suspected to be the latest, says Max Hastings in The Mail on Sunday. The pair were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia, known as Novichok, reports the BBC.

Corbyn's bad call

After Russia failed to meet a deadline of Tuesday midnight to explain how the poisoning happened, Prime Minister Theresa May ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats the biggest in 30 years and ruled out any officials or royalty from attending the World Cup in Russia in summer. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, notes Isabel Hardman in The Spectator, "was the only MP who refused to condemn the culpability of Russia and call for a robust response".

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Corbyn's "stubborn" refusal to acknowledge Russian involvement did him no favours, argues John Rentoul in The Independent, and his attempt to blame government cuts to the diplomatic services is "gratuitous". His stance left him "isolated" in the Commons as MPs from all parties condemned him, and his own MPs backed the prime minister.

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Still, May hasn't exactly covered herself in glory. Her response amounted to "token measures" and contrasted with the "furious language she employed earlier inthe week".

Make Putin pay

It is possible that "elements in the Russian security services might have procured and used the lethal poison without Kremlin orders or knowledge", argues the Financial Times. But even if this were the case, Putin could make it known throughout his security structures that he will not tolerate "freelance killings abroad". The "need for a stern response remains".

Indeed, May should "take a lesson from the Putin handbook", says Julie Lenarz in The Daily Telegraph. Rather than "merely reacting to events", she needs to work together with our partners in Nato to shape a response to "Russian aggression in Europe and beyond". This is important Russia's failure either to apologise or explain suggests that "Russia is not fearful of using extreme tactics to pursue its political agendas... when someone like Putin smells weakness, they take their chances". The more concessions we make, the bolder Russia will grow.

It's time to play hardball and hit Putin's people where it hurts: their pockets, agrees Oliver Bullough in The Guardian. Given that "they keep their houses here, their children here" and "float their companies on our stock exchange", that should be pretty easy. The fact is, "you're not rich in Russia without being friends with Putin"; this is the clearest way to send the Russian president a message. They've treated this country like a "playground". It's time to "ask the party guest to leave".

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