STOCKHOLM — The U.K. might be leaving the European Union, but when it comes to Russia, its Scandinavian neighbors remain very much united with Britain. At press conferences during a one-day trip to Denmark and Sweden Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May again accused Moscow of being behind a nerve-agent attack on former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury last month, which left both in a critical condition.
“These attempted murders represent another assault on our shared values and the international, rules-based system which upholds them,” she said. May also condemned what she described as a “truly barbaric chemical attack” in Syria and criticized Russia for enabling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to breach global rules.
May’s Scandinavian trip suggests a recognition by the U.K. that it needs to revitalize relations with traditionally reliable EU allies as Brexit draws closer, especially in light of growing British concerns over Russia. Sweden’s prime minister said Russia should answer the questions posed by the U.K. on the Skripal case. “We are clear in our support for and solidarity with the U.K. following the Salisbury attack,” Stefan Löfven said.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen took a similar line earlier in the day. “It is time for Russia to show responsibility and engage positively in the world community,” he said. Both the Danish and Swedish governments expressed dismay verging on shock when the U.K. voted to leave the EU in 2016. The U.K. is the largest economy among the nine non-eurozone EU members, which also includes both Denmark and Sweden.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen on April 9, 2018 | Mads Claus Rasmussen/AFP via Getty Images
The group often sought common ground in areas where eurozone nations were forging ahead, like banking regulation. Löfven welcomed the Brexit transition plan, agreed by the remaining 27 EU nations at a summit in Brussels in March. “It is positive that the negotiations between the EU and the U.K. so far have developed quite well,” he said.
May highlighted the 1,000 Swedish companies in the U.K. and the similar number of British companies with a presence in Sweden. “Our economic ties are one of the many reasons we are determined to maintain our close links with Sweden after Brexit,” she said.
Russian aggression has long concerned both the Danes and the Swedes, who have both repeatedly raised issues in the past. In 2014, lawmakers complained after a passenger plane leaving a Danish airport came close to colliding with a Russian military jet, an incident played down by Russia at the time.
Also in 2014, Swedish authorities confirmed that an unidentified submarine had entered territorial waters close to Stockholm. While a number of lawmakers accused Russia, no evidence linking the incident to Moscow was produced and Russia denied involvement.
Repeated incursions by Russian aircraft into Swedish airspace has also rattled nerves in Stockholm and has led to complaints to the Russian ambassador. May said she was grateful for the support of Denmark and her country’s other allies after Salisbury. “Denmark’s solidarity, along with many countries across the international community has been invaluable in sending a strong signal to Russia that its illegal and destabilizing activity will not be tolerated,” May said.