Britain expels 23 Russian diplomats over nerve attack on ex-spy

From Reuters - March 14, 2018

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain is to kick out 23 Russian diplomats, the biggest such expulsion since the Cold War, over a chemical attack on a former Russian double agent in England that Prime Minister Theresa May blamed on Moscow.

May pointed the finger firmly at Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday as she outlined retaliatory measures in parliament.

Russia denies any involvement in the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who have been critical in hospital since they were found unconscious on March 4 on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury.

May announced the potential freezing of Russian state assets that pose a security threat, new laws to counter hostile state activity and a downgrading of Britains attendance at the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.

She had given Moscow until midnight on Tuesday to explain how the Soviet-made Novichok nerve agent came to be deployed on the streets of Salisbury, saying either the Russian state was responsible or had lost control of a stock of the substance.

Their response demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events, May said in her statement to parliament. They have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.

The only possible conclusion was that the Russian state was behind the attempted murder of the Skripals and the harm that befell Nick Bailey, a police officer who is in a serious condition after being exposed to the nerve agent, May said.

This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom, she said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow would swiftly retaliate against the British measures which had been undertaken for short-sighted political ends.

The British government has made a choice in favour of confrontation with Russia, it said.


The two governments blamed each other for the crisis.

Many of us looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We wanted a better relationship and it is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way, said May.

Britain, which has received statements of support from the United States, the European Union and NATO, has said it would seek to coordinate an international response to the attack.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she took the British findings seriously and there would be a common European stance, although we must still talk responsibly with Russia despite differences of opinion.

A French government spokesman said Paris was awaiting proof before deciding if it would act in solidarity with London.



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