By David Townsend*
Opinion - The confrontation between Britain and Russia over who poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia (who was visiting him from Moscow) in sleepy old Salisbury, England is both horrible and fascinating. Midsomer Murders meets James Bond.
Skripal had been exchanged in a spy swap with Britain after spending some years behind Russian bars for being a double agent working for British intelligence. He was released several years ago and went to live in Salisbury.
The British government believes the poisoning was the work either of the Russian State with Vladimir Putin's approval or rogue agents on the loose with the particular nerve agent - allegedly only produced in Russia.
Mrs May, released from the endless, divisive confusion of Brexit was most prime ministerial in demanding answers from the Russian government. If no answers were forthcoming then there would be consequences, she said.
A deadline for answers was given. Predictably, no answers were given. The Russian government denied all knowledge of the attack. It offered to discuss the matter if it could see the nerve agent.
Roaring with rage at this insult to Britain's dignity all Tory backbenchers and quite a few Labour ones (though not Labour's leader, Jeremy Corbyn) cheered on Mrs May's announcement that sanctions would be imposed on Russia: they were duly announced.
The Russian government will safely be able to ignore them. No economic sanctions of any discernible strength will be imposed but Royal Family members will not be attending the FIFA World Cup in Moscow beginning in June.
The last sanction will do Prince William a favour: he was double booked at his brother Prince Harry's wedding to Meghan Markle. There had been some debate in British media about what choice he might make. So that's all right then.
No government ministers will be going to the World Cup either, though that's not much of a diary commitment given England football's repeated early exits in the last 30 odd years.
RT, the Russian government backed TV station in Britain may have its licence revoked. That will have a greater fall out effect on a swathe of Tory and Labour MPs who trouser a few hundred pounds each time they appear on it, than on Russia. It may also encourage media unfriendly states around the world, for example Turkey, to continue routinely shutting down broadcasters they don't like.
Lots of Russian oligarchs, though not the ones who launder money in London through vast purchases of property and/or who donate substantially to the Tory party, will be targeted for asset scrutiny and sanction.
Twenty three Russian diplomats will be expelled from Britain. All of them allegedly spy agents. Considering that Mrs May regards the poison attack as an act of war, this is a mild response. We may expect to see British diplomats arriving home from Moscow in a return gesture.
Overall then what will this achieve? Will it get to the absolute truth of what happened and by whose hand? Well, one bit of the sanctions announced might. Britain has referred investigation of the matter of the particular nerve agent to the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Russia is a signatory to this.
Some way down the track and depending on any prevarication, the answers may emerge. In the meantime, Britain will try to get as many countries on board to denounce Russia (including New Zealand) and persuade the United Nations to add to the condemnation of Russian actions.
And that is probably as far as it goes. Russia has ignored sanctions over the Crimea and the Ukraine and it supplies Europe with gas and oil. President Trump is equivocal on Russia. Brexit will soon be back at the top of Britain's agenda.
* David Townsend is an ex-UK Parliamentary Labour candidate, a former Labour ministerial speech writer and special adviser and contributor to The Guardian, The Independent and The Times.