Spy poisoning standoff: Russia expels 23 British diplomats in tit-for-tat move

Britain has accused Russia and its president Vladimir Putin for the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal, a former spy, and expelled 23 diplomats.

world Updated: Mar 17, 2018 14:34 IST
Associated Press, Moscow
Russia,UK,Britain
British Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow leaves the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Russia March 17, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

Russia’s government expels 23 British diplomats and threatened further measures in retaliation in a growing diplomatic dispute over a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain.

The Russian foreign ministry said in a statement that it is also ordering the closure of the British Council in Russia and ending an agreement to reopen the British consulate in St. Petersburg.

It ordered the diplomats to leave within a week.

The statement said the government could take further measures if Britain takes any more “unfriendly” moves toward Russia.

British prime minister Theresa May this week expelled 23 Russian diplomats and severed high-level contacts over the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Russia denied any involvement in the attack on the father and daughter, who have been critical in hospital since they were found unconscious on March 4 on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury.

Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to Britain before being arrested in Moscow and later jailed in 2006. He was freed under a spy swap deal in 2010 and took refuge in Britain.

The attack on him was likened in Britain to the killing of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, a critic of Putin, who died in London in 2006 after drinking green tea laced with radioactive polonium 210. Russia refused to extradite the two Russians identified by Britain as the killers.

Britain’s response to the Litvinenko affair, which included the expulsion of four Russian diplomats, was widely criticised domestically as too weak, and many in British politics and media have called for a much tougher response to the Skripal attack.

First Published: Mar 17, 2018 14:33 IST