In a decisive move, British Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered 23 Russian diplomats to leave the country after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used on a former spy in Salisbury, the BBC reported Wednesday.
May said the diplomats, who have a week to leave, were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”. She also revoked an invitation to Russia’s foreign minister, and said the Royal Family would not attend the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year.
Former spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being found slumped on a bench on 4 March.
London police Detective Nick Bailey fell ill while responding to the incident, and is in a serious but stable condition, but is thought to be improving.
The mass expulsion took place after Moscow refused to meet Theresa May’s midnight deadline to co-operate in the case, prompting Mrs. May to announce a series of measures intended to send a “clear message” to Russia.
Expelling 23 diplomats, freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents, Ministers and the Royal Family boycotting the Fifa World Cup in Russia later this year, suspending all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the UK and Russia.
The UK is also considering new laws to increase defenses against “hostile state activity” and increasing checks on private flights, customs and freight.
Mrs. May, who was earlier briefed by senior intelligence chiefs in Downing Street, told the parliament that Russia had provided “no explanation” as to how the nerve agent came to be used in the UK, describing Moscow’s response as one of “sarcasm, contempt and defiance,” BBC reports.
The use of a Russian-made nerve agent on UK soil amounted to the “unlawful use of force”, she said. May, added there was “no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable” for the attack.
It’s “tragic” that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “chosen to act in this way,” she added, according to the report.
Russia denies attempted murder and says it will respond appropriately. Its foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Moscow would take “fitting… symmetrical measures that are completely appropriate for the situation”.
Speaking on state TV, she said the UK has no idea about professionalism or diplomacy, and were “fully-fledged liars”.
The UK briefed the UN Security Council on the investigation. At the meeting, Nato allies expressed “deep concern” at the use of a nerve agent and said it was a “clear breach of international norms and agreements”.