UK and Russia Relations – What Happens Next?

Russia

The past few days have seen relations between the UK and Russia reach one of the lowest points since the cruise missile crisis in the 1980s.  London’s best immigration lawyers, and their Russian clients who are in the UK on a Tier 2 work visa or Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa, Tier 1 Investor Visa, or UK spouse visa, are anticipating what will happen next.

Theresa May gave the Kremlin until midnight on Tuesday to explain why a Soviet-era nerve agent, produced in Russia, was used on British soil in the apparent attempted murder of a man and his daughter.  The time limit was ignored.  Consequently, Britain has expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the UK and instigated a range of other measures to crack down on “corrupt elites”, including new measures to combat spying. 

Relations between the two countries are at their lowest ebb since the cold war era.

The Guardian has also reported that this afternoon, the leaders of Britain, the US, Germany and France released a joint statement strongly condemning the Salisbury nerve agent attack as “an assault on UK sovereignty” and saying it is highly likely Russia was behind it.

The background to the crisis

On 4th March 2018, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer, and his daughter Yulia were discovered on a public bench in the cathedral town of Salisbury.  The pair were in a catatonic state and were taken to hospital.  Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, a police officer who attended the scene also fell ill and was rushed to the emergency room.  As of the time of writing, a further 38 people have received medical treatment in the market town.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter remain in a critical condition.  And Detective Sergeant Bailey’s condition is serious, and his long-term prognosis is unknown.

The substance which caused the devasting injuries has been identified as Novichok, first developed in secret by the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1980s, as a means of countering US chemical weapons defences.  It is incredibly rare, which is why it took officials so long to identify it in the first place.

Chemical weapons expert and a former commanding officer of the UK military's Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon described Novichok to CNN as, "a very sophisticated chemical weapon" that only a very select number of states would be capable of handling.

"It is difficult to imagine a scenario that doesn't have Russian hands all over it," he added.  "So, the chance that perhaps some of these Novichoks have been stolen by criminals or terrorists from Russia is a possibility, and we wait to see an explanation from the Russian Ambassador to London tomorrow, but I think highly unlikely".

In a matter of days, the finding of an incapacitated couple on a park bench in a small South-West market town has escalated from a suspected drug overdose to an international incident, with Russia possibly being accused of an unlawful use of force on UK soil.

All eyes are on Theresa May because the UK Prime Minister has been here before.  And this time, experts say, her response must be stronger.

The death of Alexander Litvinenko 

In 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and KGB, was poisoned with radionuclide polonium-210.  Mr Litvinenko was granted political Asylum in the UK and later obtained British Citizenship

The polonium was traced to a nuclear power plant in Russia.  On 28th May 2007 the British Foreign Office submitted a formal request to the Russian government for the extradition of Andrey Lugovoy, a former KGB agent, to the UK to face criminal charges relating to Litvinenko's murder.  This request was declined.  Lugovoy and Dmitry Kovtun, who had both met with Litvinenko the day he fell ill, had their assets frozen by then Home Secretary, Theresa May.

However, The Economist described the UK government’s response to the incident as "tough talk and little action".  However, this time, the safety of the wider British public has been compromised. 

What actions can the UK take against Russia?

Many Russians who are living and/or doing business in the UK may feel slightly nervous about how they will be affected by the deteriorating relations between the two countries, and immigration lawyers in London are doing their best to reassure them.

The options Britain has before it to further sanction Russia are as follows:

  • Invoke Article 4 of the NATO Treaty – this article allows any member state to convene a meeting of NATO members to "consult" when it feels its independence or security are threatened.  In practice, it has rarely been used and sends a strong political message to the greater world that NATO is concerned about a specific situation.  This course of action is unlikely as President Putin already sees NATO as a severe threat and calling such a meeting may be seen as an act of aggression.
  • Introducing so-called Magnitsky legislation – the Magnitsky Act was brought in by the Obama administration.  It is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer and auditor who in 2008 untangled a dense web of tax fraud involving 23 companies and a total of $230 million linked to the Kremlin and individuals close to the government.  He was jailed without trial and died in mysterious circumstances days before his release.  In retaliation of the Human Rights abuses suffered by Magnisky, the legislation blocked 18 Russian government officials and businesspeople from entering the United States, froze any assets held by U.S. banks and banned their future use of U.S. banking systems. This was lengthened in 2016, and now sanctions apply to 44 suspected Human Rights abusers worldwide.
  • Restrict the British activities of Russian companies – sanctions could affect the ability of Russian banks and organisations to raising finance.

How OTS Solicitors can assist Russian citizens who wish to come to the UK

Our expert immigration team can advise and represent Russian citizens who may be facing problems at the border, or who have a potential Asylum claim.  In addition, we can assist those who have £200,000 in investment funds and wish to start a credible business venture, or become a director of an existing company, to obtain a Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa.  Alternatively, we can assist those with £2 million or more available to invest in the UK to apply for a Tier 1 Investor Visa.

OTS Solicitors is one of the most respected immigration law firms in London and is a Legal 500 leading firm.  By making an appointment with one of our immigration solicitors, you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available in the UK today. 

For Immigration Law advice, please contact us on 0203 959 9123 to speak to one of our immigration consultants.

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