Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, gestures as he speaks during the plenary session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

U.K. Says Putin Is Testing the West, Urges EU to Boost Sanctions

(Bloomberg) -- Britain’s top diplomat accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of testing the resolve of Western nations, and praised President Donald Trump as he appealed to the European Union to step up sanctions against Moscow.

Speaking during his first visit to Washington since replacing Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the EU should match the U.S. response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil this year.

Putin “is testing us, he’s wanting to see just how robust and how united the the West is,” Hunt said in a speech to the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday. “That’s why it’s important our response is robust and united.”

The attempted murder of Sergei Skripal with a nerve agent in the English town of Salisbury was an example of how Putin’s foreign policy “has made the world a more dangerous place,” Hunt said. Britain wants the EU “to ensure its sanctions against Russia are comprehensive, and that we truly stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S.”

The veiled criticism of the EU comes as the U.K. is pursuing Brexit and courting the U.S. for a favorable trade deal, an example of how foreign policy and domestic politics become entwined. Hunt took care to heap praise on Trump.

‘Red Lines’

“If you look at the actions of President Trump what you see is an approach to foreign policy that is different from his predecessors but is absolutely focused on upholding the international order,” Hunt said. “He’s prepared to be tough, tougher actually than a number of his predecessors, to make sure people get the message about vital red lines.”

EU states expelled Russian diplomats following the March attack on Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. But the death last month of Dawn Sturgess, a British woman who later came into contact with the nerve agent, has raised the stakes.

Hunt drew attention to U.S. steps against Russia -- including sanctions due to come into force Wednesday on electronics, lasers and some oil and gas production technologies -- and said the EU should follow suit. The bloc hasn’t expanded the sanctions it imposed in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

In a further swipe at Brussels, Hunt said a failure to reach a Brexit deal with the EU would threaten cooperation across the continent.

“The risk of a messy divorce, as opposed to the friendship we seek, would be a fissure in relations between European allies that would take a generation to heal -- a geostrategic error for Europe at an extremely vulnerable time in our history,” he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.