Russian spy poisoning: Moscow expels 23 British diplomats in retaliation

Erika Holt
March 18, 2018

The crisis erupted after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were exposed to a Soviet-designed nerve agent on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury, leaving them in critical condition. The tensions threaten to overshadow Putin's expected re-election tomorrow for another six-year presidential term.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's office said that Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull joined her in condemnation of the attack.

However, Russia continues to deny it had anything to do with the attack.

In a sign of just how tense the relationship has become, British and Russian ministers used openly insulting language while the Russian ambassador said Britain was trying to divert attention from the difficulties it was having managing its exit from the European Union.

May said the expulsion of the 23 diplomats, identified as undeclared intelligence officers, was the biggest single expulsion for over 30 years and would degrade Russian intelligence capabilities in Britain for years to come.

London and its allies have blamed Moscow for the attack and on Friday, Britain directly implicated Putin himself, unleashing the Kremlin's fury.

In a response, Russian Federation has called the allegations "shocking and inexcusable" and a breach of diplomatic rules of decent behaviour. The pair remain critically ill in the hospital.

"We have never encountered this level of discussion on the global stage", Peskov told reporters.

A ministry spokesman said that Britain's first priority would be in helping those who would be returning to Britain.

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Russia's government is expelling 23 British diplomats and threatened further measures in retaliation in a growing diplomatic dispute over a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain. Russian Federation has consistently denied any culpability, accusing Britain of refusing to hand over samples of the poison used.

British police are trying to reconstruct the movements of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the crucial hours before they were found unconscious from nerve agent poisoning. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also says it expects action soon in response to the British investigation.

Speaking as she met emergency services and residents of the Wiltshire city, Mrs May said: "We do hold Russian Federation culpable for this brazen and despicable act that has taken place on the streets of what is such a remarkable city".

Russian Federation has refused Britain's demands to explain how Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military, was used against the Skripals in the English city of Salisbury.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, former commander of the British Army's chemical and biological weapons regiment, called that Russian claim "complete hogwash".

Speaking on Russia-24 television, Zakharova on Saturday linked Britain's angry reaction to the war in Syria. He said the chemical was too risky for anyone but a "high-level senior scientist" to handle and that even he - who worked for 30 years inside the secret military installation where Novichok was developed and gained extensive personal experience in handling the agent - would not know how to weaponize it.

On March 16, 2018, Vil Mirzayanov, 83, the Russian chemist who revealed the existence of the Novichok family of chemical agents to the world has dismissed the notion that a non-state actor could be behind the poisoning.

Russia's Defence Ministry called UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson a "vulgar old harpy" on Thursday, after he said the country should "shut up" and "go away".

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