UK expels 23 Russian diplomats in spy-poisoning standoff
British Prime Minister Theresa May has launched a blistering attack on Russia, accusing it of being culpable in the poisoning of a Russian double agent in England and announcing that the U.K. will expel 23 Russian diplomats.
âThere is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of [Sergei] Skripal and his daughter - and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury,â Ms. May told the House of Commons on Wednesday. âThis represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.â
Ms. May said the expulsion will be the largest in more than 30 years. âThrough these expulsions we will fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the U.K. for years to come. And if they seek to rebuild it, we will prevent them from doing so,â she said. Russia has 58 registered diplomats at its U.K. embassy in London.
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The Prime Minister said the U.K. will also suspend high-level contacts with Moscow, look into new anti-espionage laws and withdraw dignitaries from this summerâs soccer World Cup in Russia. The government will also consider adopting a type of Magnitsky Law, aimed at seizing assets of corrupt Russian officials and named after Moscow lawyer Sergey Magnitsky who was arrested in Russia and died in jail after exposing corruption. And the British broadcast regulator has also threatened to pull the license of the Kremlin-run television station RT if Britain concluded that Russia was involved in the poisoning.
Ms. May has also reached out to several Western allies, including the United States, Germany, France and Canada. And she said all had offered support for the U.K., adding that âit is essential that we now come together â" with our allies - to defend our security, to stand up for our values and to send a clear message to those who would seek to undermine them.â
The Russian embassy in London called the expulsions a âhostile actionâ and âtotally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted.â
âAll the responsibility for the deterioration of the Russia-U.K. relationship lies with the current political leadership of Britain,â the embassy said in a statement.
British investigators have said that Mr. Skripal, 66, and his 33-year old daughter, Yulia, were exposed to a nerve agent during an outing last week in Salisbury, where Mr. Skripal lived. Investigators have said that the chemical was part of a class of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Ms. May had given the Russian government until midnight Tuesday to respond to her claim that Russia was either directly involved in the attack or gave someone access to the deadly chemical. Britain has also turned over the material to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to verify the chemical.
The Russian government ignored the deadline and denied any involvement in the case. Moscow has also vowed to retaliate if the U.K. took any action against Russia. The countryâs ambassador to the U.K., Alexander Yakovenko, told reporters on Wednesday that Britainâs actions were â absolutely unacceptable and we consider this a provocation.â He added that Russia believes âthat the measures which are taken by the British government is nothing to do with the situation which we have in Salisbury.â
Russia has also demanded that Britain hand over samples of the nerve agent for testing. âOn these absolutely legitimate demands ... we received a gibberish response, which in general can be summarized by saying that we were denied these legitimate requests,â Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow on Tuesday.
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Russian media were in a combative mood on Wednesday ahead of Ms. Mayâs announcement.
âWhile neither Russia nor Britain wants direct confrontation over this... anything that causes pain to the partner is allowed,â read an article in Wednesdayâs edition of the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, which often takes a nationalist line. âThe die is cast, the Rubicon has been crossed.â
The official Rossiskaya Gazeta newspaper repeated the Kremlinâs denial of any involvement in the poisoning, which Britain says was carried out using a toxin only produced in Russia.
âBy Theresa Mayâs logic, then any murder carried out with a Kalashnikov [a Russian-made assault rifle] could be blamed on Russiaâs secret services.â
On Wednesday, Ms. May dismissed Russiaâs response, saying Moscow treated the situation with âsarcasm, contempt and defiance.â
The poisoning âwas not just an act of attempted murder in Salisbury â" nor ju st an act against U.K.,â she said. âIt is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. And it is an affront to the rules based system on which we and our international partners depend.â
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