Russia to Expel UK Diplomats as Crisis Over Nerve Toxin Attack Deepens
Russia is set to expel British diplomats in retaliation for Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to kick out 23 Russians as relations with London crashed to a post-Cold War low over an attack involving a military-grade nerve agent on English soil.
After the first known offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War Two, Britain has pointed the finger at President Vladimir Putin and on Thursday May gave the 23 Russians who she said were spies working under diplomatic cover at London’s embassy a week to leave.
The diplomats are due to leave London on March 20, RIA news agency quoted Russia’s ambassador to Britain as saying.
Separately on Friday, police in London launched a murder investigation into the death this week of a Russian associate of late tycoon Boris Berezovsky, but said nothing at this stage suggested a link to the attempted murders of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4.
Russia has denied any involvement in the Skripal case. It has cast Britain as a post-colonial power unsettled by its impending exit from the European Union, and even suggested London fabricated the attack in an attempt to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.
Asked by a Reuters reporter in the Kazakh capital Astana if Moscow would expel British diplomats, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov smiled and said: “We will, of course.”
Britain, the United States, Germany and France jointly called on Russia on Thursday to explain the attack. U.S. President Donald Trump said it looked as though the Russians were behind it.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said an EU summit next week would discuss the issue, in the first instance to seek clarity. She said any boycott of the soccer World Cup, which Russia will host in June and July, was not an immediate priority.
Merkel said she would discuss with French President Emmanuel Macron during a visit to Paris on Friday an appropriate response to the attack, adding: “Many trails point to the fact that Russia is responsible.”
Donald Tusk, the chair of EU summits, said he had spoken with May on Friday to prepare a clear message on the attack from the 28-nation bloc that Britain is due to leave next year.
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