UK’s May urges EU unity against Russia as Kremlin slams UK

Theresa May arrives for a EU summit in Brussels, where she sought unified condemnation of Moscow over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK. (AFP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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UK’s May urges EU unity against Russia as Kremlin slams UK

BRUSSELS: British Prime Minister Theresa May urged European Union leaders on Thursday to unite and condemn Russia for not respecting international rules or borders, while Moscow slammed the UK as untrustworthy in its investigation of the poisoning of a former spy.
Amid heated words and frosty relations between London and Moscow, May accused Russia of staging “a brazen and reckless attack against the United Kingdom” by attacking Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury.
“I will be raising this issue with my counterparts today because it is clear that the Russian threat doesn’t respect borders and indeed the incident in Salisbury was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbors, from the western Balkans to the Near East,” May said as she arrived an EU summit in Brussels.
Britain blames Moscow for the attack with a military-grade nerve agent and has called Russia a growing threat to Western democracies. Russia has fiercely denied the accusations.
Both nations have expelled 23 of each other’s diplomats in a feud that shows no signs of cooling.
Russia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, hit back Thursday, saying his country “can’t take British words for granted,” and accusing the UK of having a “bad record of violating international law and misleading the international community.”
 

It is clear that the Russian threat doesn’t respect borders and indeed the incident in Salisbury was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against Europe and its near neighbors, from the western Balkans to the Near East.

Theresa May


“History shows that British statements must be verified,” he told reporters in London. “We demand full transparency of the investigation and full cooperation with Russia” and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Britain says it is complying with the international chemical-weapons watchdog over the March 4 attack on Skripal — a former Russian intelligence officer convicted of spying for the UK — and his daughter.
Experts from the OPCW have come to Britain to take samples of the nerve agent that has left the Skripals in critical condition.
May wants nations at the EU summit in Brussels to make a strong statement against Russian President Vladimir Putin. EU foreign ministers have already expressed their “unqualified solidarity” with Britain, but May will try to swing the 27 other EU leaders behind a more strongly worded statement that explicitly condemns Russia.
European politicians and leaders vary in how far they are willing to go in blaming Putin’s Kremlin.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose former Soviet state shares a border with Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, offered her full backing to Britain and said she was weighing whether to expel Russian diplomats from her country over the Salisbury attack.
German politician Manfred Weber, leader of the biggest group in the European Parliament, said Putin “wants to destabilize the European idea, European cooperation, and that’s why we don’t have to be naive, we have to be strong.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsiprias was more cautious. He said “we have to express our solidarity to the UK, to the British people, but at the same time we need to investigate.”
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, a former criminal lawyer, said he wanted to hear what May had to say.
“I have the principle that first I listen, and then I take a decision,” he said.
EU Council President Donald Tusk is seen by the UK as supportive, saying this week that Europe must “reinforce our preparedness for future attacks.”
But British officials are irked that another EU chief, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, congratulated Putin on his victory in Sunday’s presidential election in Russia. Election monitors say the Russian vote did not take place on a level playing field since state media gave so much coverage to Putin.
The Salisbury attack has sent relations between London and Moscow to Cold War-style lows.
On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said it was “emetic” — vomit-inducing — that Putin is rejoicing over hosting the World Cup soccer tournament this summer. Russia responded that Johnson was “poisoned with venom of malice and hate.”
Johnson also said Russia’s hosting of the June 14-July 15 tournament could be compared to the 1936 Olympics, which was used as propaganda exercise by Nazi Germany.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the comparison an “utterly disgusting statement which is unworthy of a foreign minister of any country.” He called Johnson’s words “insulting and unacceptable.”


Macron fires bodyguard filmed beating protester; critics say too late

Updated 8 min 2 sec ago
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Macron fires bodyguard filmed beating protester; critics say too late

  • Alexandre Benalla, who as Macron’s top bodyguard has long been a fixture by his side, was taken into custody for police questioning over the incident, which took place when Benalla appeared at May Day protests in a riot helmet and police tags.
  • Lawmakers have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the incident itself, the lenient initial punishment and the failure of the authorities to report Benalla promptly to the judiciary.

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron fired the head of his personal security detail on Friday but faced criticism for failing to act sooner, after a video was released showing the man posing as a police officer and beating a protester while off duty in May.
Alexandre Benalla, who as Macron’s top bodyguard has long been a fixture by his side, was taken into custody for police questioning over the incident, which took place when Benalla appeared at May Day protests in a riot helmet and police tags.
He had initially been suspended for just 15 days and allowed to return to work. Just days ago he was seen in public helping to organize security for celebrations for the return of France’s World Cup champion soccer team.
Lawmakers have launched a parliamentary inquiry into the incident itself, the lenient initial punishment and the failure of the authorities to report Benalla promptly to the judiciary.
In the footage, which was released on Wednesday by Le Monde newspaper, Benalla can be seen dragging a woman away from a protest and later beating a male demonstrator. On Friday, French media released a second video which showed Benalla also manhandling the woman.
He had been given permission by the president’s office to attend the protests as an observer of the security operation, but had no authorization to take part in police work.
The president’s office brushed off accusations that it had responded only because the nearly three-month-old videos had become public. It said the decision had now been taken to fire Benalla because the bodyguard had improperly obtained a document while trying to make his case over the accusations.
“New facts that could constitute a misdemeanour by Alexandre Benalla were brought to the president’s attention,” an official at the presidential palace told Reuters. “As a result ... the presidency has decided to start Alexandre Benalla’s dismissal procedure.”
Critics of Macron called the president’s delayed response a characteristic sign that he is out of touch. It follows controversies over government spending on official crockery, a swimming pool at a presidential retreat and cutting remarks by the president about the costs of welfare.
After hours of debate in the lower house on Thursday, lawmakers agreed to launch a parliamentary inquiry.
“Why did he protect this person? Does he head up a parallel police force? Refusing to answer makes (Macron) complicit in these acts of violence,” Eric Ciotti, a senior member of the conservative Republicans party, said on Twitter.