Russia Boots 23 UK Diplomats 03/17 11:04
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia on Saturday announced it is expelling 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.
Britain's government said the move was expected, and that it doesn't change
the British conviction that Russia was behind the poisoning of ex-agent Sergei
Skripal and his daughter in the British city of Salisbury. Prime Minister
Theresa May said Britain will consider next steps in the coming days alongside
The Russian Foreign Ministry ordered the 23 diplomats to leave within a
week. It also said in a statement that it is ordering the closure of the
British Council, a government-backed organization for cultural and scientific
cooperation, and that it is ending an agreement to reopen the British consulate
in St. Petersburg.
The announcement followed on the heels of Britain's order this week for 23
Russian diplomats to leave the U.K. because Russia was not cooperating in the
case of the Skripals, both found March 4 poisoned by a nerve agent that British
officials say was developed in Russia. The Skripals remain in critical
Britain's foreign secretary accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of
personally ordering the poisoning of the Skripals. Putin's spokesman denounced
The Russian statement said the government could take further measures if
Britain takes any more "unfriendly" moves toward Russia. British Ambassador
Laurie Bristow was called to the Foreign Ministry Saturday to be informed of
"We will always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our
values against an attack of this sort, which is an attack not only on the
United Kingdom, but upon the international rules-based system on which all
countries, including Russia, depend for their safety and security," Bristow
told reporters after being informed of the expulsions.
"This crisis has arisen as a result of an appalling attack in the United
Kingdom, the attempted murder of two people, using a chemical weapon developed
in Russia and not declared by Russia at the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons, as Russia was and is obliged to do under the Chemical Weapons
Convention," he added.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Saturday denied that
Russia or the Soviet Union had ever developed the nerve agent Novichok that
Britain said was used to poison the Skripals.
A Russian scientist disclosed details of the secret program in the 1990s,
and later published the formula for Novichok. But Russia maintains it has never
Speaking on Russia-24 television, Zakharova said Britain's angry reaction is
connected to the war in Syria. She said Britain is taking a tough line because
of frustration at recent advances of Russian-backed Syrian government forces
against Western-backed rebels.
Russia argues that it has turned the tide of the international fight against
Islamic State extremists by lending military backing to Syria's government.
With Russian help, Syrian forces have stepped up their offensive on rebel-held
areas in recent days, leaving many dead.
The British National Security Council will meet early next week to consider
the next steps after Saturday's expulsion announcement.
The Foreign Office says "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
The British Council said in a statement it is "profoundly disappointed" at
its pending closure. The organization has been operating in Russia ever since
the fall of the Soviet Union.
"It is our view that when political or diplomatic relations become
difficult, cultural relations and educational opportunities are vital to
maintain on-going dialogue between people and institutions," it said.
British police appealed Saturday for witnesses who can help investigators
reconstruct the Skripals' movements in the crucial hours before they were
Western powers see the attack as the latest sign of alleged Russian meddling
abroad. The tensions threaten to overshadow Putin's expected re-election Sunday
for another six-year presidential term.
Meanwhile new tensions have surfaced over the death this week of a
London-based Russian businessman, Nikolai Glushkov. British police said Friday
that he died from compression to the neck and opened a murder investigation.
Russia also suspects foul play in Glushkov's death and opened its own
British police said there is no apparent link between the attack on Glushkov
and the poisoning of the Skripals, but both have raised alarm in the West at a
time when Russia is increasingly assertive on the global stage and facing
investigations over alleged interference in the Donald Trump's election as U.S.