Leader comment: New nerve agent cases underline need for united front

Putin regime's use of chemical weapons was so reckless it should be seen as an attempt at indiscriminate murder.

News that two more people are suffering from exposure to the Novichok nerve agent comes as Putin basks in the glow of the World Cup in Russia (Picture: Fifa via Getty)

Given the deadly nerve agent Novichok was developed in the former Soviet Union, it is fairly obvious that Moscow’s agents would have known all about its properties and that using it to try to kill former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal would endanger the lives of innocent people.

And so it was that Yulia Skripal, his daughter, and a police officer who went to their aid, Nick Bailey, both became seriously ill and, in total, 48 people sought medical advice after the attack in Salisbury in March.

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Now, it seems, the lives of two more people are in danger because of exposure to Novichok. While urging people not to “jump to conclusions”, Home Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons that “the leading line of enquiry” was that Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley had been affected by the same nerve agent used in the failed assassination.

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He again stressed there was “no plausible alternative explanation to explain the events in March, other than that the Russian state was responsible” for the “barbaric and inhumane” use of chemical weapons. As he spoke, the Kremlin-controlled news media began churning out disinformation and conspiracy theories designed to appeal to the credulous. But anyone who thinks the UK is a place that deploys chemical weapons against its own citizens, while Vladimir Putin’s regime is peaceful, democratic and tolerant of dissent, is living in an alternative reality.

The use of chemical weapons was so reckless that it should be regarded not as a targeted assassination operation but rather an attempt at indiscriminate murder. Responding to the latest news, Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that Britain’s streets could not be allowed to become “killing fields for state actors”. Can she ever have imagined the need to make such a self-evidently true statement?

Presenting a united front to Russia on this issue is important. Politicians of all parties need to show Putin and any other wannabe international bully-boys that, whatever their differences, they will unite when under attack – as they do routinely following acts of terrorism.

The same is true on the international stage; all peaceful, liberal democracies must remain as one in confronting Russia, or any state, that behaves in such a way. Failing to do so would only encourage further outrages and a descent into an extremely dangerous new world order.