Speed Reads

British nerve gas attack

Britain is now threatening to seize Russian oligarchs' luxury real estate after ex-spy's poisoning

As British investigators examine the theory that a deadly Soviet-developed nerve agent was put into the luggage of Yulia Skripal before she flew from Moscow to Britain on March 3 to visit her father, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, the aftermath of their March 4 poisoning is spreading throughout Russia and the West. The Skripals, father and daughter, were found unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury, and 12 days later they are still in critical condition at a hospital. Britain blames the Kremlin for the brazen nerve agent attack.

On Thursday, the U.S., Germany, and France issued a rare joint statement condemning Russia for the attack, and on Friday, NATO and Australia said they stand with Britain, too. Russia responded Friday by threatening to expel British diplomats in retaliation for Britain's decision to kick out 23 Russian embassy employees it says are spies, and to add some number of Americans to its "black list" in reaction to the U.S. sanctioning 19 Russians and five companies for cyber-attacks. Britain also signaled it might hit Russian President Vladimir Putin's loyal allies where it hurts: their luxury "Londongrad" real estate.

Wealthy Russians started moving money into Britain in the mid-1990s, using murky shell companies to invest tens of billions of dollars in multimillion-dollar London mansions and other assets, like soccer teams and newspapers, The New York Times reports.

But on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May vowed to "freeze Russian state assets" used to attack British citizens and crack down on "serious criminals and corrupt elites," adding, "There is no place for these people — or their money — in our country." Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested Thursday that Britain might target Putin associates in a new anti-corruption drive. "If you start to take away Astons and Bentleys and huge apartments in Kensington, freezing those assets, people will care a lot more," Cliff Kupchan, chairman of Eurasia Group, tells the Times, and they'll let Putin know about it.