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
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.