Prime Minister Theresa May has announced the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats from the UK since the Cold War over the alleged attack on a former spy. Moscow has denounced May’s claims as baseless.
The Russian Embassy in London called the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats announced by UK Prime Minister Theresa May over the poisoning of former intelligence officer Sergei Skripal “unacceptable, short-sighted and unjustified.”
In a statement, the Embassy confirmed that the diplomats had been declared persona non grata, adding that London was to blame for the harm caused to Russian-UK relations by this “hostile step.”
The Russian Embassy’s reaction followed UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s address to the House of Commons, where she announced a response to the alleged attack on Skripal.
Biggest Expulsion of Russian Diplomats Since Cold War
Reiterating a claim she made Monday about Russia’s alleged culpibility in the Skripal case, the prime minister accused Russia of an “unlawful use of force against the United Kingdom,” saying this crime was part of a well established pattern of “Russian state aggression” in Europe, and accused Moscow of “sarcasm, contempt and defiance” in its response to London’s ultimatum to provide further information.
May announced that 23 Russian diplomats “identified as undeclared intelligence officers” will be expelled and given one week to leave.
Second, she vowed the creation of new legislative powers against “hostile state activity,” as well as possible new counter-espionage powers.
May promised the freeze of Russian assets in cases where they threaten UK citizens, adding there was no place for those seeking to do harm to the UK.
The prime minister also said that “criminals” and “corrupt elites” from Russia were not “welcome” in the UK. She informed lawmakers that “led by the National Crime Agency, we will continue to bring all the capabilities of UK law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites. There is no place for these people – or their money — in our country.”
May also confirmed that her government will be looking to strengthen Magnitsky Act-type, human rights-based amendments to existing sanctoins.
Suspension of High Level Contacts
London will suspend all high level contacts with diplomatic officials from Moscow, including during the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia, which British ministers and members of the royal family will skip.
May accused Russia of “flagrantly” breaching its international obligations, and said it was “tragic” that Russian President Putin “has chosen to act in this way.”
The prime minister stressed that the London and its allies will coordinate its actions, and welcomed support received from NATO and the EU. A NATO Council meeting will be held to discuss the matter on Thursday. The UK is also pushing for a debate at the UN on the Skripal case, and has asked the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to to help verify its claims against Russia.
Skripal’s attempted murder was not just an act of aggression against the UK, but an affront to the prohibition of chemical weapons, May said.
Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn called the events in Salisbury “abominable,” adding that the Labour Party supports the prime minister in taking firm, multilateral action to ensure chemical weapons are never again used in the UK. He asked however whether May agrees on the need to maintain dialog with Russia, and emphasized that Britain’s response must “be both decisive and proportionate and based on clear evidence.”
A Corbyn spokesman told reporters Wednesday that the Labour leader would reject blaming Skripal’s alleged poisoning on Russia until there is sufficient evidence to do so.
Responding to a lawmaker’s question about whether she will respond to any Russian response with an even firmer response, May said there were “other measures” that London stands ready to deploy should it face “further provocations” from Moscow.
May accused Russia of having a “pattern” of aggression, from Syria to Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, to meddling in elections in other parts of the world to “propaganda” and “misinformation campaigns.”
Asked about whether the UK will seek to further diversify away from the delivery of Russian gas, May confirmed that “we are indeed looking” to other countries for supplies.
Asked whether Russian English language media including RT would be targetted, May said that this was not a matter for the government, but for media regulator Ofcom. She added that the UK would continue to support the efforts of BBC’s Russian language service. Moscow had previously warned that UK media would be expelled from Russia if Russian media was expelled from the UK.
May encouraged lawmakers to send a “clear message” by refusing to appear on RT and Sputnik.
Ex-GRU officer and MI6 double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were hospitalized on March 4 following what London has claimed was a poisoning in the southern English city of Salisbury.
Moscow has dismissed all accusations of involvment in the Skripal incident and requested access to the case. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has characterized London’s claims as “propaganda,” and complained that Russia wasn’t provided with any evidence regarding the crime, in spite of the accusation of Russian involvement, and the fact that Russia had made a request for information regarding a crime which affected Yulia Skripal, who is a Russian citizen. London suspects that a nerve agent known as Novichok was used in Skripal’s suspected poisoning. Russian officials have pointed out that Moscow destroyed its stocks of the weapon. Media also confirmed Wednesday that the US military has had access to the nerve agent since the 1990s, when the Pentagon was tasked with helping to dismantle a Soviet-era chemical weapons institute in Uzbekistan.
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