DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The United Kingdom and Russia are in quite a diplomatic standoff right now. Britain wants answers in the case of a Russian national who once spied for Britain. He and his daughter were poisoned in southern England this month, and both of them remain in critical condition in the hospital. The poison used here was a lethal nerve agent known to be manufactured in Russia. And this week, Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament it was, quote, "highly likely that Russia was responsible."
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UNITED KINGDOM THERESA MAY: It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.
GREENE: Now, so far, Russia has dismissed Britain's allegations. The United Kingdom is now considering whether to retaliate and how far it is willing to go. And we have Lord Peter Ricketts on the line with us. He's a former British diplomat and former national security adviser for the U.K. government.
Lord Ricketts, welcome back.
PETER RICKETTS: Good morning, David.
GREENE: How important is it for Britain to do something here, to send a message to Russia?
RICKETTS: Well, I think it's vital for Britain to do something. But I think it goes beyond that because this is not just an issue between Russia and Britain. This is an issue of international concern. This is a pattern of Russian behavior that we've seen not just in the U.K., but also attacks on Russian nationals, particularly in other countries, as well. We had the case of Mr. Litvinenko 10 years ago, who was poisoned with polonium on the streets of London. Now we have another one. There have also been some other unexplained cases over the years. So since Russia has brushed aside our request that they explain what's going on here, I think the prime minister will have to announce some pretty serious measures.
GREENE: So you're saying this goes beyond this case. I mean, Alexander Litvinenko was the former Russian spy, and this was about a decade ago. You also have Nikolai Glushkov, who was a Putin critic living in Britain who died under suspicious circumstances this week. I mean, you're saying this should be taken together when - as Britain decides what to do.
RICKETTS: Well, I think you have to see a pattern here. And if you think of the gravity of what's been done here, this is military-grade nerve agent of a kind that is essentially banned under the convention on chemical weapons being used in the streets of an English country town, putting at risk all sorts of other people, as well. We also have a British police officer who's seriously in hospital, having gone as a first responder to this incident and, you know, widespread concern about the level of potential contamination. So this is behavior that is completely out of order for a country that presents itself as a responsible and serious member of the international community.
GREENE: So what can the response be? Are we talking about sanctions here or something more?
RICKETTS: Well, I think what Theresa May will announce today is in a first range of measures. There will be some expulsions, I'm sure, of some of the Russian security agents in the U.K. And I think she will announce that we will pursue what you have done in the U.S., the Magnitsky Act, with greater powers to seize assets of those concerned with human rights abuses. And then I think that we will take our case to our NATO allies to make the point that this is something of much wider concern. And we perhaps need to reframe how we see Russia as an international actor if they can't give an adequate explanation of this.
GREENE: Is that enough? I mean, I know the British government has been accused of dragging its feet at moments like this.
RICKETTS: Well, I think what we can't do is outpunch Putin. He will always find the harder punch on a particular issue. But I think this ought to bring the country's allies around the world to look at Russia in a different way. For example, NATO - we need to use the NATO summit coming up this year to show that all the NATO allies are taking this use of chemical weapons in a NATO member state very seriously.
GREENE: Lord Peter Ricketts is a retired British diplomat speaking to us this morning. Lord Ricketts, thanks so much.
RICKETTS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.