As tensions mount between the UK and Russia over the poisoning of a former double agent on British soil, Russian President Vladimir Putin appears ready to "tear up completely the rulebook of international behaviour," a senior official at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank has told Euronews.
Prime Minister Theresa May gave Russia until midnight on Tuesday to explain how former spy Serguei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the southern English city of Salisbury with a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union.
Moscow has fiercely denied any connection to the poisoning and says the UK is whipping up anti-Russian hysteria. RUSI International Director Jonathan Eyal said in a Skype interview that May's move had not intended – at least initially – to be an ultimatum.
"As the British prime minister sees it, she was basically trying to give the Russians at least a possibility of getting out of a difficult situation. She hinted at the possibility that they may suggest that these are chemical compounds that have escaped from government control," Eyal said.
"But it is already clear that there is nobody in Moscow in any mood whatsoever at the moment to take that elegant way out and to prevent a much bigger showdown."
Eyal says the UK could cripple the Russian embassy in London by expelling a raft of diplomats, including the Russian ambassador. But any diplomatic retaliation would be more effective if the UK could show it has the support of its European allies.
"I think what will be watched very carefully in Moscow is if Britain is out on a limb on this one, or if the British government manages to carry its allies with it," Eyal said
May, who said on Monday (March 12) it was "highly likely" that Russia was behind the Skripal poisoning, has already won support from the European Union, which denounced the attack as "shocking."
"As things currently stand, it appears that President Putin in Moscow believes that there is no hope for any good relations with the West, and therefore it’s his turn to tear up completely the rulebook of international behaviour."
Note EU-Digest: Now is the time for the EU to stand firm together with Britain and provide complete support against these Mafia practices of President Vladimir Putin's Government. This is also the time for the EU to put Brexit on the back burner and take up the fight against these totally unacceptable crimes committed on the territory of Britain (EU) by a foreign power.
As to the lip service provided by the US President Trump to Theresa May, one should consider these assurances of support "dubious", given that the US Trump Administrations relationship with the Russian government is still under investigation by the FBI.