Diplo­matic ten­sion es­ca­lates be­tween UK, Rus­sia over spy case

Amid a diplo­matic row over the poi­son­ing of a for­mer Rus­sian dou­ble agent, Bri­tain has sus­pended all high­level diplo­matic con­tact with Rus­sia

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - International -

BRI­TAIN an­nounced yes­ter­day it will ex­pel 23 Rus­sian di­plo­mats, the big­gest such ex­pul­sion since the Cold War, and break off high-level con­tacts with the Krem­lin over the nerve-agent at­tack on a for­mer spy and his daugh­ter in an English town. Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May told law­mak­ers that the 23 di­plo­mats, who have been iden­ti­fied as un­de­clared in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, have a week to leave.

She an­nounced a range of eco­nomic and diplo­matic mea­sures, in­clud­ing the sus­pen­sion of high-level bi­lat­eral con­tacts with Rus­sia. As part of eco­nomic and diplo­matic sanc­tions, Bri­tain will ex­pel Rus­sian di­plo­mats, with­draw Bri­tish of­fi­cials from this sum­mer’s soc­cer World Cup in Rus­sia and im­pose fi­nan­cial sanc­tions on Rus­sians linked to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

In re­sponse, Rus­sia’s Am­bas­sador to Bri­tain Alexan­der Yakovenko warned Lon­don of re­cip­ro­cal mea­sures if Bri­tain ex­pelled Rus­sian di­plo­mats, the RIA news agency said.

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin’s spokesman yes­ter­day re­jected what he called Bri­tain’s “un­founded ac­cu­sa­tions” and “ul­ti­ma­tums” over the poi­son­ing of a for­mer dou­ble agent in Bri­tain.

“Mos­cow does not ac­cept un­founded ac­cu­sa­tions that are not based on ev­i­dence and a lan­guage of ul­ti­ma­tums,” Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told re­porters.

“We are hop­ing that com­mon sense will pre­vail,” he said, in the Krem­lin’s first pub­lic re­sponse to Bri­tish ac­cu­sa­tions that Rus­sia could be be­hind the at­tempted mur­der of for­mer dou­ble agent Sergei Skri­pal.

On Tues­day, For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov re­jected Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s dead­line to ex­plain how Skri­pal was poi­soned in Bri­tain with a highly toxic nerve agent in­vented by Rus- sia.

Rus­sia has claimed that the nerve agent could have come from an­other for­mer Soviet coun­try, point­ing to Mos­cow’s foe, Ukraine.

Bri­tish PM May also called on al­lies to act on Rus­sian chem­i­cal pro­gram. “It is about an il­le­gal pro­gram to de­velop those chem­i­cal weapons by the Rus­sian state, and we will leave no stone un­turned in or­der to work with our al­lies to en­sure that we re­spond ap­pro­pri­ately to that,” PM May said.

How­ever, Rus­sia’s cab­i­net min­is­ter said that Mos­cow has fully de­stroyed its chem­i­cal weapons stock­piles. In re­marks car­ried by Rus­sian news agen­cies Wed­nes­day, In­dus­try and Trade Min­is­ter De­nis Man­turov said Rus­sia com­pleted its chem­i­cal weapons dis­man­tling ef­forts in Novem­ber and doesn’t have any such weapons.

Bri­tain has sought sup­port from al- lies in the Euro­pean Union and NATO, in­clud­ing the United States. NATO urged Rus­sia yes­ter­day to an­swer Bri­tain’s ques­tions over the poi­son­ing of an ex-spy in what they called the first-ever of­fen­sive use of a nerve agent on the al­liance’s ter­ri­tory. The at­tack has raised spec­u­la­tion that Bri­tain will con­sider trig­ger­ing “ar­ti­cle five” of NATO mem­ber­ship, a rule that says an at­tack on one mem­ber con­sti­tutes an at­tack on all.

Sergei Skri­pal, 66, and his daugh­ter Yu­lia, 33, re­main in crit­i­cal con­di­tion in hospi­tal af­ter be­ing found un­con­scious on a bench out­side a shop­ping cen­ter in the south­west­ern city of Sal­is­bury. Emer­gency work­ers in bio­haz­ard suits have been de­ployed in the nor­mally sleepy city, while about 500 peo­ple who may have come into min­i­mal con­tact with the nerve agent were urged to wash clothes and be­long­ings as a pre­cau­tion.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter theresa May ad­dresses the House of Com­mons on her gov­ern­ment’s re­ac­tion to the poi­son­ing of a for­mer rus­sian agent, March 14.

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