On March 4, the city of Salisbury, England witnessed the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. Earlier, Yulia had flown from Moscow to visit her father, a former double agent for the United Kingdom. That day, they were rushed to the Salisbury District Hospital after being poisoned by a lethal Russian military nerve poison called Novichok.  The aftermath of this dramatic life-threatening event revealed hopeful diplomatic signs for a post-Brexit UK but also threatened diplomatic relations between Russia and the West.

Russia, the only country that possesses Novichok, is clearly responsible for the attack.  Still, Russia has continually denied all possible blame. After the incident, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he “found out about it from the media” and that “Russia does not have such [nerve] agents.”  President Putin’s denial only stokes the flames of mistrust between Russia and the rest of the word.

Tensions with Russia have been steadily accumulating. Most recently, United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley announced the possibility of heightened sanctions against Russia for its support of the Syrian Government. Disagreements about the facts of the Skripal attack do not aid the situation.

Russia expelled 60 American diplomats mainly from the U.S. embassy in Moscow. The U.S. responded by expelling 60 Russian diplomats. Nineteen other countries, mostly European, also expelled Russian diplomats to send a strong signal to the Kremlin. While this move is widely supported domestically because it shows an intolerance for Russia’s crimes, it also limits bilateral cooperation to overcome such tension. The positive effects of expelling diplomats are ephemeral and intensify the situation.  Recently, the diplomatic environment has escalated to the point where it turns tides at the flip of a switch. Diplomats should certainly not be removed as they are crucial to resolving conflicts such as the nerve attack.

Though many other nations have taken Russia’s attack on Skripol personally, the focus remains on the UK. The rapid expulsion of Russian diplomats across the globe is a threat to the diplomatic stability of the world, but it reveals that the UK is not as isolated as it appears.  The threat of post-Brexit isolation has worried many Brits because of the ensuing economic and social transition Brexit presents. By leaving the European Union, the UK is leaving the world’s largest economic architecture. The UK risks more expensive trade with Europe, as well as highly trained foreign professionals. Thus, it is reassuring for the UK that 18 EU countries remain in support of the UK against Russia. Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen of Denmark said, “we stand shoulder to shoulder with Britain.” The Italian Foreign Ministry added that they stand in “solidarity with the United Kingdom.”  

These movements send a signal to the UK that their foreign relations remain intact as long as the UK strives to sustain them. They also suggest that current pressure on the UK as a result of Brexit will be short-lived. Though the attempted murder of Skripal has reduced constructive channels for diplomacy, it has brought to light the status of the UK’s foreign relations.