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Russia to expel 23 British diplomats in spy-poisoning row

March 17, 2018

Russia says 23 British diplomats must leave the country within a week amid a row with London over a nerve-agent attack. The Foreign Ministry said it would also close the British Council in Russia.

People in protective clothing
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Matthews

Russia's Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that it would expel 23 British diplomats from the country in retaliation for Britain's expulsion of 23 Russians over a nerve-agent attack on British soil.

It said that it would also close the British Council in Russia, and reserved the right to take further measures against Britain in the event of further "hostile steps" from London.

Read more: UK-Russia relations: Crisis or melodrama? 

What has happened so far:

  • Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal, 69, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4.
  • Investigators later determined that they had been made ill by a nerve agent first produced in laboratories in Soviet Russia as part of a chemical-warfare program.
  • British Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia of involvement in the attack and decided to expel 23 Russian diplomats.
  • The British ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on Saturday to be informed about Russian countermeasures.
  • Sergei and Yulia Skripal remain in hospital in a critical condition, as does a policeman who attended to them at the scene.

Read moreNovichok nerve agents – Russia's dangerous 'new' poison 

Britain's ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow
Ambassador Bristow was summoned to the Russian Foreign MinistryImage: picture alliance/AP/A. Zemlianichenko

What has Russia said?

In a statement issued after the meeting with Bristow, the Foreign Ministry said that 23 British diplomatic staff were "declared persona non grata and to be expelled within a week."

The statement also said that:

  • This move was a response to Britain's "provocative actions" and "baseless accusations" over the attack.
  • Permission was being withdrawn for Britain to open a general consulate in St. Petersburg.
  • "If further unfriendly actions are taken towards Russia, the Russian side retains the right to take other answering measures."

'An attack on international values'

Following Russia's announcement, Bristow called the nerve-agent poisoning "an attack not only on the United Kingdom, but upon the international rule-based system on which all countries, including Russia, depend for their safety and security." 

He told reporters the attack was carried out "using a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as Russia was and is obliged to do under the Chemical Weapons Convention."

Britain's Foreign Ministry said that it had anticipated Russia's response and that the National Security Council would meet early next week to consider what steps to take next.

"Russia's response doesn't change the facts of the matter — the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable," it said in a statement.

   tj/jlw (Reuters, AFP)

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