Sanctions, cyberattack among possible UK moves on Russia

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on Tuesday after attending the weekly meeting of the Cabinet. (AFP)
Updated 14 March 2018
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Sanctions, cyberattack among possible UK moves on Russia

LONDON: Britain has given Moscow until midnight Tuesday to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent came to poison a former spy in Britain. If no explanation is given, Prime Minister Theresa May says Russia will be hit by “extensive” retaliatory measures.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said UK officials are speaking to allies in the EU and beyond to draw up a “commensurate but robust” response to the attack, which has left Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in a critical condition.
Britain has faced a similar crisis before. After former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko was killed in London with radioactive poison in 2006, London expelled several Russian diplomats, imposed visa restrictions, broke off intelligence cooperation and froze assets of the two prime suspects.
Critics say that response was too weak, and claim Britain was reluctant to act because London’s property market and financial sector are magnets for billions in Russian money.
What are Britain’s options now?

Expel diplomats
Britain is highly likely to expel some Russian diplomats, possibly including Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko. That would almost certainly result in the tit-for-tat expulsion of British envoys in Moscow. While that will further fray already strained diplomatic relations, it would have a limited effect on Russia.

Hit their pockets
London is a magnet for wealthy Russians, and Britain could seek to stop those suspected of involvement, or close to President Vladimir Putin, from enjoying their money and property in the UK
“Russian oligarchs over the last few months have been moving money and liquid assets back to Russia from various places around the world, but you can’t move fixed assets,” said historian Martin McCauley, a former senior lecturer on Russian affairs at the University of London. “So therefore if they’ve got property — and they have a lot of property in London and elsewhere — (May) could in fact impose a freeze or even say confiscate those assets.”
Britain has recently introduced new powers to seize money and property whose origins are suspicious, and is considering adopting a version of the US Magnitsky Act, which allows authorities to ban or seize the assets of individuals guilty of human rights abuses.
The EU — of which Britain remains a member until 2019 — has already imposed sanctions on Russian banks, businesses and officials over Moscow’s invasion of Crimea. Britain is likely to urge the bloc to toughen those measures. But several leading EU nations, including Germany, are wary of antagonizing Russia.

Sports boycott
Russia is due to host one of world sport’s biggest events, the World Cup of soccer, in June and July. Johnson has said the UK may downgrade its participation by not sending politicians or Prince William, who is president of England’s Football Association.
Some are urging a British boycott of the event, at which England is one of 32 teams competing for the trophy. But that is likely a step too far.

Military moves
Britain could seek to bolster NATO forces in the Baltic states, where Western troops have been deployed to counter an increasingly assertive Russia.
But Britain will probably stop short of invoking NATO’s principle of collective defense, under which an attack on one is considered an attack on all.
British Housing Minister Dominic Raab said May chose her words carefully when she called the attack “an unlawful use of force” against the U.K.
“The words ‘unlawful use of force’ are different and have a different meaning in international law from ‘armed attack,’” he told the BBC.

Cyber strikeback
UK intelligence officials have warned that Russian hackers are targeting the country’s telecommunications systems, media and energy networks.
So far, Britain has concentrated on strengthening its cyber defenses — but it could take offensive action of its own, possibly targeting Russian websites that generate “fake news.” That would mark an escalation in international cyber-conflict, with unknown consequences.
Britain is also under pressure to revoke the license of state-owned Russian broadcaster RT, which has been repeatedly censured by the UK broadcast regulator for a lack of impartiality.
The regulator, Ofcom, said it would wait until May outlines Britain’s response to Russia on Wednesday and then “consider the implications for RT’s broadcast licenses.”


India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

Updated 11 December 2018
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India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

  • Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition
  • Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling party could lose power in three key states, four TV networks said on Tuesday, citing votecount leads, potentially handing Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014, and months ahead of a general election.
The main opposition Congress party could form governments in the central states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and in the western state of Rajasthan, all big heartland states that powered Modi to a landslide win in the 2014 general election.
Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition, despite his high personal popularity in the face of criticism that he did not deliver on promises of jobs for young people and better conditions for farmers.
“We’ve all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here,” said Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat grower in Madhya Pradesh, where it appears as if Congress might have to woo smaller parties to keep out Modi’s party.
“BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid.”
The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, president of the left-of-center Congress, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups and face Modi with his most serious challenge yet, in the election that must be held by May.
In Rajasthan, the Congress was leading in 114 of the 199 seats contested, against 81 for the BJP, in the initial round of voting, India Today TV said.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress was ahead in 59 of the 90 seats at stake, with the BJP at 24. In Madhya Pradesh, the most important of the five states that held assembly elections over the past few weeks, Congress was ahead, with 112 of 230 seats. The Hindu nationalist BJP was at 103, the network said.
Three other TV channels also said Congress was leading in the three states, with regional parties leading in two smaller states that also voted, Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.
Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters.
Local issues usually dominate state polls, but politicians are seeing the elections as a pointer to the national vote just months away.
Indian markets recovered some ground after an early fall as the central bank governor’s unexpected resignation the previous day shocked investors.
The rupee currency dropped as much as 1.5 percent to 72.465 per dollar, while bond yields rose 12 basis points to 7.71 percent after the resignation of Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel.
The broader NSE share index was down 1.3 percent, with investors cautious ahead of the election results.
“As the three erstwhile BJP states have a large agrarian population, the BJP’s drubbing could be interpreted to mean that farm unrest is real,” Nomura said in a research note before the results.
“A rout of the BJP on its homeground states should encourage cohesion among the opposition parties to strengthen the non-BJP coalition for the general elections.”
Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has sought to build a coalition of regional groups, some headed by experienced firebrand, ambitious politicians.
Congress has already said it would not name Gandhi, who is seen as lacking experience, as a prime ministerial candidate.
“When one and one become eleven, even the mighty can be dethroned,” opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav said of the prospect of growing opposition unity.