Britain was last night poised to smash Vladimir Putin ’s network of gangster allies with cash and travel freezes – as the nerve agent toll hit 21.
Cut off from billions in assets and cash, and with visas restricted, the Russian President’s powerful Red Mafia supporters could turn against him during his election campaign.
As the race to find the suspected Russian hit squad continued, police searched a maroon BMW, believed to belong to ex-Kremlin agent Sergei Skripal , 66, who was attacked with his daughter Yulia, 33.
Both are fighting for their lives. Hero policeman Det Sgt Nick Bailey, who tried to save them in Salisbury, Wilts, on Sunday is seriously ill.
A total of 21 people have been treated for nerve agent poisoning .
Under pressure to respond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd today threatened Russia with quiet retribution if there was evidence Putin was behind the attack.
And a source told the Daily Mirror this meant tougher sanctions for Putin’s pals with financial interests in London and Europe.
He said The way to hurt Putin is to cripple the ability of his wealthy friends to travel where they like, squeeze their finances and obliterate their jet-set lifestyles.
If they do that, the oligarchs could turn on Putin and destabilise his regime. He is more vulnerable than people think.
In Salisbury police sealed off the graves of Sergei’s late wife Lyudmila and son Alexander, visited by him and Yulia three days before the attack. And a car belonging to a friend who collected Yulia from an unknown airport is also being checked.
A red bag was found near the scene of the attempted murder and taken away for analysis.
Skripal, who worked for Russian military intelligence before being turned by MI6 , and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury city centre.
One theory being looked at is that Skripal’s daughter unwittingly brought back a contaminated gift from a trip to Moscow.
A death squad is also suspected.
But whatever the method, all sources are convinced the attack was state-sponsored and ordered by Putin.
Police are retracing Sergei and Julia’s steps for hints of the as yet unnamed nerve agent, which sources also believe point to Moscow’s involvement.
Det Sgt Bailey , a married dad-of-two, 38, may have performed CPR on one of the Skripals at the scene.
His commanding officer Chief Const Kier Pritchard visited Salisbury District Hospital yesterday with the award-winning officer’s wife Sarah, 37.
He said Nick was sitting up but receiving a high level of treatment. He was initially treated for minor symptoms and discharged – then rushed back when he fell into a coma.
Chief Const Pritchard said Of course he’s very anxious, he’s very concerned. He did his very best on that night. I’m massively proud.
DS Bailey, who lives on the edge of the New Forest, has been with Wiltshire Police for 16 years. His mum Susan, from Sandleheath, Wilts, was too upset to talk yesterday as she left for her son’s bedside.
In 2016, as a detective constable, he was awarded the Certificate of Excellence for investigating a complex and serious case of sexual abuse involving multiple victims.
The attack on British soil may soon result in the expulsion of spies and diplomats. But the Daily Mirror understands UK authorities will also play on Putin’s fears of a coup.
He was under threat before when his rich pals were hit by sanctions over his action in Crimea and East Ukraine.
A senior security source said There have been rumours before that he was under threat of a coup and he disappeared from public life for a few days .
But he survived. More sanctions could be very serious. This is also a very interesting test of the resolve of Europe, in the countdown to Brexit .
Another massive clampdown on the bank accounts of dozens of Putin’s cronies could seriously threaten Putin’s super-wealthy and criminal support.
Ms Rudd insisted there will be nothing soft about our response to any state activity.
You may not hear about it all, but when we do see that there is action to be taken, we will take it, she said.
Theresa May pledged If action needs to be taken then the Government will do that.
The Prime Minister added We will do what is appropriate, we will do what is right, if it is proved to be the case that this is state sponsored.
Politicians are also lobbying Europe and the US for support on a huge boost in sanctions.
British cyber spooks have the ability to launch a huge assault on Russia’s infrastructure, industry and military if they are given the go-ahead.
Our GCHQ listening station smashed 188 potentially devastating malware attacks last year.
But it is also capable of carrying out its own offensives.
If it is proved that President Putin ordered the nerve gas hit on Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Britain will quietly retaliate.
There is likely to be an assault on the Russian leader’s super-wealthy oligarch supporters with their gangster lifestyles.
Last time Europe slapped sanctions on Putin’s pals was when Russia invaded Crimea and moved into the Ukraine in 2014. Their bank accounts were frozen and visa restrictions crippled their ability to travel.
They were livid, and rumours spread through the intelligence world that Putin was facing a coup and had disappeared somewhere in Russia.
The oligarchs hold great power in Russia and could turn on him if they are denied access to their European mansions and bank accounts.
Cyber activity and expulsions of diplomats and intelligence officers are certain to happen.
But the most devastating British response to a Russian state-sponsored hit on our streets will be to apply a financial squeeze on the oligarchs.
News Source MirrorNews