Russia has announced the expulsion of 23 British diplomats as a row escalates with London over a nerve-agent attack on a former double agent, Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil.
The Russian foreign ministry said the UK staff would be expelled from Moscow within a week in response to Britain’s decision to expel 23 Russian diplomats.
The tit-for-tat expulsion follows after the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in London on March 4.
Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping centre in Salisbury, after they were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent.
Russia also said it would close the British Council in Russia, which promotes cultural ties between the nations, and the British Consulate in St Petersburg.
Blaming Russia for the attack, the UK said it would dismiss 23 Russian envoys, the single biggest expulsion in more than 30 years.
UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May said on Saturday that Russia’s dismissal of the British representatives “doesn’t change the facts of the matter” of the poisoning.
“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,” May told her Conservative Party’s spring forum.
A former double agent, Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence before his arrest in Moscow in 2004. He was later sent to the UK in exchange for captured Russian spies.
Russia decided the British diplomats must leave Moscow within a week, its foreign ministry said on Saturday, after a meeting with Britain’s ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow.
Moscow also decided to close the British Council in Russia and to withdraw permission for Britain to open a general consulate in St Petersburg, the ministry said in a statement.