Britain has announced it is expelling 23 Russian diplomats after a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy — the single biggest such expulsion since the Cold War.
Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons on Wednesday that Russia has expressed “disdain” for Britain’s wish for an explanation into the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. She said that Russia’s actions “represent an unlawful use of force.”
May said the Russian diplomats have a week to leave Britain.
She also announced a range of economic and diplomatic measures, including asking the royal family and ministers not attend the soccer World Cup in Russia in the summer.
Britain will also suspend high-level bilateral contact with Russia and revoke an invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit, May said, adding that Russia was “culpable” for the poisoning.
“Many of us looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We wanted a better relationship and it is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way,” May told parliament.
On Monday, May said that Russia is “highly likely” to blame, and that Moscow faced “extensive” retaliation if it could not explain how the nerve agent came to be used.
Moscow said it would not comply with Britain’s demands unless the government provides samples of the poison collected by investigators.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Russia “rejects the language of ultimatums.”
Peskov said Britain has so far only offered “baseless accusations which are not backed up by any evidence.” He said Russia would cooperate with the investigation but does not see Britain’s willingness to reciprocate.
“We hope reason will prevail and other countries will think hard how serious the evidence against Russia is,” he said.
Russia has claimed that the nerve agent could have come from another former Soviet country, pointing to Moscow’s foe, Ukraine.
Lawmaker Vladimir Gutenev, a member of the state commission for chemical disarmament, said Russia had scrapped its stockpile of Novichok, the nerve agent used against the Skripals.
“It is hard to say what may be happening in neighboring countries,” he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Britain has sought support from allies in the European Union and NATO, including the United States. May’s office says US President Donald Trump told the prime minister the US was “with the UK all the way.”
European Council President Donald Tusk said Wednesday that the attack was “most likely” inspired by Moscow and announced he would put the issue on the agenda at an EU leaders’ summit next week.