Despite the Salisbury attack, Britain can’t cut off all links with Russia | Tony Brenton

Relations now are at a dangerous level. But in the long term, we need Moscow’s help to tackle the major international problems

• Tony Brenton was Britain’s ambassador to Moscow from 2004 to 2008

The safety of the people is the highest law, said Cicero. He was right. And it is a core duty of the British government to deal effectively with a nerve gas attack on our streets, which has seriously incapacitated three people and endangered many more. Theresa May has risen to the challenge. The authorities have swiftly identified the poison used in the attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal as Russian. We have demanded that Russia explain what has happened, or face consequences. It is already clear that we can expect obfuscation. We will then have to deliver the prime minister’s “vigorous” response.

I was British ambassador in 2006 when Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in Moscow. The similarities are striking: almost certain Russian guilt, a nasty poison deployed on British streets, Russian refusal to cooperate. We introduced sanctions – diplomatic expulsions and limits on links with the Russian intelligence agencies – intended to deter any recurrence.

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