UK expels Russian diplomats over poisoning of ex-spy

Prime Minister May also suspends high-level contacts after Moscow is found 'culpable' of nerve agent attack

LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday expelled 23 diplomats and suspended high-level contacts with Russia, including for the World Cup, saying her government found Moscow "culpable" of a nerve agent attack on a former spy.

Mrs May said she would be pushing for a "robust international response" when the United Nations Security Council meets in New York to discuss the attack on Mr Sergei Skripal and his daughter on March 4.

Russia has repeatedly denied any involvement and its London embassy warned that May's response was "totally unacceptable and shortsighted".

Mrs May told parliament that Russia had failed to respond to her demand for an explanation on how a Soviet-designed chemical, Novichok, was used in the English city of Salisbury.

"There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter," she said.

"This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom."

In measures drawn up at a meeting of her national security council earlier yesterday, Mrs May announced that 23 Russian diplomats believed to be undeclared intelligence officers must leave Britain in a week.

She suspended all planned high-level contacts, which includes revoking an invitation for Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to visit, but said she did not want to break off relations entirely.

PM May also confirmed that neither members of the royal family nor ministers would attend the football World Cup in Russia in June.

And she outlined fresh measures against people travelling to or living in Britain who were responsible for violations of human rights or planned "hostile activities".

Nato allies, including the US, have expressed their support for Britain after the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II.

Along with the UN Security Council meeting in New York, European Union Council President Donald Tusk indicated that the issue would be on the agenda of next week's summit of the bloc's leaders in Brussels.


Mrs May had given Moscow until midnight on Tuesday to explain whether it was directly responsible or "lost control" of the nerve agent, but said it has responded with "sarcasm, contempt and defiance".

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman said again yesterday that it had "nothing to do with the accident in Britain", but warned it would not accept the "language of ultimatums".

Mr Lavrov has said the Kremlin is ready to cooperate with Britain but complained that its request for samples of the nerve agent had been rejected.

Moscow has also warned that it will take retaliatory measures, and on Tuesday threatened to expel British media if the licence of its state broadcaster RT was threatened in Britain.

Mrs May yesterday blamed Mr Putin for a deterioration of relations between Moscow and London, saying it was "tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way".

Britain is wary of acting alone and Mrs May has spoken to US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in recent days. - AFP