UK expels Russian diplomats in response to spy poisonings

Prime Minister Theresa May says Russia is guilty of the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, leaves 10 Downing Street following a meeting in London, U.K., on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. May publicly blamed Russia for poisoning a former spy and his daughter on British soil, as escalating tension between the Kremlin and the West raised fears of a new Cold War. (CREDIT: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, leaves 10 Downing Street following a meeting in London, U.K., on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. May publicly blamed Russia for poisoning a former spy and his daughter on British soil, as escalating tension between the Kremlin and the West raised fears of a new Cold War. (CREDIT: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The British government expelled 23 Russian diplomats on Wednesday, after the Kremlin refused to explain why a deadly, Russian-made nerve agent was used to poison former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia.

On Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament that it was “highly likely” that Russia was to blame for the attack in the town of Salisbury, which potentially exposed 500 British citizens to the nerve agent and left a policeman in hospital. The Russian foreign ministry called the remarks a “provocation” and described the event as a “circus show in the British Parliament”.

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“[Russia’s] response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said on Wednesday. “They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent, no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the U.K., no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons program in contravention of international law. Instead they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt, and defiance.”

May went on to call the poisoning “an unlawful use of force against the United Kingdom” and said that the expulsion of diplomats is the biggest of its kind in 30 years. In addition to expelling the diplomats, May said that no British diplomats or royals would attend the World Cup in Russia this summer and that the security services would be given new powers to crack down on foreign intelligence agents in Britain.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded this week by saying that Britain was acting out a drama instead of investigating the murder.

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“Russia could not have had any motives,” he said. “But those who would like to continue a Russophobic campaign in absolutely all areas of human activities [could].”

To date, reports have linked at least 14 attacks on high profile figures and former spies living in Britain — some of whom were killed — with Russia. The latest of those victims, Skripal and his daughter, remain in critical condition.

On Monday, when asked about the U.K. response to the poisonings, the White House declined to pin the blame for the nerve agent attacks on Russia, stating only that the United States “stands by [its] closest ally and the special relationship that we have.”

Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson broke with the White House on the issue, telling reporters on Monday night that he believed there was a clear connection linking the attacks to Russia. Tillerson was fired from his post on Tuesday.