Putin considered UK soft touch and weak after Salisbury poisoning: No proper signal

Vladimir Putin snubs handshake with Carlos Puyol in 2018

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has been widely condemned across the West, with the US, UK and EU imposing severe sanctions against the country. This week, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson toughened his stance on Putin’s future, despite US President Joe Biden having faced criticism this week for appearing to call for regime change in Moscow. In the Commons, Mr Johnson was urged by former Tory minister Johnny Mercer to recognise that now is the time to “double down” on military aid to defeat Russia, “whilst consigning Putin to the dustbin of history where he belongs”.

There had been suggestions that some Western countries would ease sanctions on Russia in return for the country signing up to a ceasefire, but Mr Johnson remained insistent that the UK must maintain pressure on the Kremlin.

The Prime Minister agreed with his Tory colleague and called for action to “ratchet up” the economic pressure on Putin.

He added that the West must “make sure there is no backsliding on sanctions by any of our friends and partners around the world”.

He continued: “It is inconceivable that any sanctions could be taken off simply because there is a ceasefire. That would be absolutely unthinkable.”

Read More: Putin humiliated as ‘exhausted’ troops retreat from strategic airport

The UK’s unrelenting stance on Russia upon the Ukraine invasion is in stark contrast to the country’s action upon the Salisbury poisonings in 2018.

That year, former double agent for the UK intelligence services, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, were poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

The pair both spent several weeks in hospital in critical condition before being discharged.

The UK Government accused Russia of attempted murder and responded with a number of punitive measures including diplomatic sanctions and the freezing of some Russian state assets.

The UK also expelled some Russian diplomats.

Putin retaliated with a tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsion and the closure of the St Petersburg consulate and the British Council in Russia.

A former KGB officer, Mr Kalugin, said that the UK was considered a “soft touch” by the Kremlin. 

Speaking to the Mirror in 2018, Mr Kalugin said: “The Russians see Britain as a soft touch.

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“I would not rule out more assassinations. 

“Now that you’ve identified two assassins, I feel Britain should at the very least expel the Russian ambassador. That would send a proper signal.”

Mr Kalugin was Putin’s boss in the KGB when the pair were stationed in Leningrad in the Seventies.

He was one of three men present when the organisation sanctioned the assasination of Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, with a poisoned umbrella in London in 1978. 

The former KGB general added that the Kremlin may not have considered an assasination on US soil.

Mr Kalugin said: “Just note how differently the Russians, and before them the Soviets, have acted in the US.

“Yes, they interfere in elections, but they have never, to my certain knowledge, even attempted a political assasination on US soil.

“Of course, Britain has less means to make Putin feel threatened.

“But it’s been lacking in strong counter-action.”

The former spy said the Government “failed” in the job by leaving Mr Skripal unprotected in Salisbury.

Mr Kalugin, who is on the run after being convicted by Russia of spying for the West in 2004, added that he would have been killed “long ago” if he lived in the UK.

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