Published: Sat, March 17, 2018
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Russia to expel 23 UK diplomats in spy row

Russia to expel 23 UK diplomats in spy row

British Prime Minister Theresa May this week ordered 23 Russian diplomats expelled as part of measures to punish Russia over the March 4 poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the city of Salisbury.

Moscow also chose to close the British Council in Russian Federation and to withdraw permission for Britain to open a general consulate in St Petersburg.

Sky's Defence Correspondent Alistair Bunkall tweeted: "I understand the 23 expelled British diplomats are intelligence officers".

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador, Laurie Bristow, to a meeting on Saturday morning in central Moscow at its Stalin-era headquarters during which he was informed of the retaliatory measures.

As he left the meeting in Moscow, he told reporters that the United Kingdom would "always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort".

On Friday evening, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told TASS that "the Russian side has taken all the decisions and they will be shortly communicated both to the British side and to the public".

The Kremlin reacted swiftly, saying it is "shocking and unforgivable" that Britain has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being involved in the poisoning of a former spy. "We will always do what is necessary to defend ourselves,"the ambassador told reporters". The officer is reportedly now in stable condition.

The UK Foreign Office has said that it "anticipated a response of this kind" and that its National Security Council will meet next week to "consider next steps".

Russia's response has also targeted the British Council, which promotes cultural ties.

The Prime Minister said Moscow was in "flagrant breach" of global law over the incident which saw a Russian-made nerve agent release in the city.

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Russian Federation has denied any responsibility for the attack on Mr Skripal and his daughter.

The midnight deadline then passed without comment from Russia, prompting the United Kingdom expulsion of the Russian diplomats.

In a statement, it said: "Our priority today is looking after our staff in Russian Federation and assisting those that will return to the UK". Russian officials have increasingly begun suggesting the attack could have been staged by Britain itself.

When asked by Sky News whether Russia had destroyed all its chemical weapons in line with the internationally recognised Chemical Weapons Convention, Russian diplomat Alexander Shulgin said: "Absolutely".

The Russian foreign ministry said staff from the UK's Moscow embassy would be expelled within a week.

Leaders from the United States, Germany and France have already joined the accusing Russian Federation of being behind the attack in a statement this week.

Russian Federation has denied the U.K.'s allegations, accusing Britain of using the incident in a campaign to smear Moscow.

Skripal, a former colonel in the GRU who betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence, and his daughter have been critically ill since March 4, when they were found unconscious on a bench.

Russia's Foreign Ministry has summoned the British ambassador to Russian Federation for talks in a heightening dispute over a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain.

Police have also launched a murder investigation into the death of Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian businessman who was found dead in his London home on Tuesday.

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