23 Russian diplomats to be expelled from Britain amid probe into ex-spy’s poisoning
British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Wednesday she is expelling 23 Russian diplomats from the United Kingdom following the suspicious poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter. It will be the largest expulsion since the Cold War.
May’s announcement comes hours after Moscow ignored a midnight deadline to explain how a military-nerve agent developed by the former Soviet Union was used against former spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yulia.
“All who have been identified as declared intelligence officers. They have just one week to leave,” the prime minister said. “This will be the single biggest expulsion for over 30 years and it will reflect the fact that this is not the first time the Russian state has acted against our country.”
Additionally, May said that British officials nor members of the Royal family will attend this summer’s World Cup in Russia. She also announced a range of economic and diplomatic measures, including a decision to cancel all high-level bilateral contacts with Russia
“(Russia’s response) has shown complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said, adding that the country has offered “no credible explanation” how the Russian-made Novichok nerve agent was used in the attack.
“This represents an unlawful use of force against the United Kingdom,” she said, adding, Russian officials have treated the manner with “sarcasm, contempt and defiance.
“It must be met with a full and robust response.”
Ahead of May’s announcement, the Russian ambassador in the U.K. warned to expect a retaliation for the expulsion of the country’s diplomats.
Alexander Vladimirovich Yakovenko told Sky News that the United Kingdom’s actions are “unacceptable” and that Moscow considers them a “provocation.”
“This is a really serious provocation,” he said.
May said Monday that Russia is “highly likely” to blame, and that Moscow faced “extensive” retaliation if it could not explain how the nerve agent came to be used.
Moscow said it would not comply with Britain’s demands unless the government provides samples of the poison collected by investigators.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Russia “rejects the language of ultimatums.”
Skripal and his daughter remain in critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury, southwestern England more than a week after they were found collapsed on a bench.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.