Russian Federation foreign ministry says it will expel 23 British diplomats
Russian Federation foreign ministry says it will expel 23 British diplomats
The FIFA 2018 World Cup draw took place at the Kremlin Moscow
17 March, 2018, 21:21
Three days after the United Kingdom said it was expelling 23 Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former Russian double agent on United Kingdom soil, Russia says it's responding in kind, by kicking out 23 United Kingdom diplomats now in Moscow.
"A total of 23 diplomatic employees of the British Embassy in Moscow are declared personae non gratae and must leave within a week", said the statement, warning that Moscow retained the right to respond if Britain continues to take unfriendly steps against Russian Federation.
Russian Federation also said that it was withdrawing permission for Britain to operate its consulate in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg, citing a "disparity" in the number of diplomatic missions held by the two countries.
Vladimir Dzhabarov, first deputy of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, told Moscow-based Interfax news agency that the British Council was used as a cover organization for British intelligence officers.
The measures were in response to "the provocative actions of the British side and the unsubstantiated accusations" against Russian Federation, the ministry said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the decision earlier this week to expel the Russian diplomats, who she said were spies for the Russian government.
Speaking on Russia-24 television, Zakharova said Britain's angry reaction is connected to the war in Syria.
The diplomatic standoff started with the poisoning of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England on March 4.
The confrontation escalated after May accused Moscow on Wednesday of an "unlawful use of force" involving a weapons-grade nerve agent and ordered out the largest number of Russian diplomats from London in 30 years.
Russian Federation has denied any responsibility for the attack on Mr Skripal and his daughter.
The UK Foreign Office has said that it "anticipated a response of this kind" and that its National Security Council will meet next week to "consider next steps".
"This follows the action we have taken, alongside other measures, to dismantle the Russian espionage network operating in the United Kingdom as a outcome of the attempted assassination of two people here in Britain using a nerve agent".
"We have said on different levels and occasions that Russian Federation has nothing to do with this story", he said.
Russian Federation has insisted it is ready to cooperate in investigating the attack in Salisbury if Britain reciprocates by sharing the evidence it holds.
In a dramatic twist Friday, the Metropolitan Police said that the death of Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov, who was found dead Monday in his London home, was now being treated as murder. There's no evidence at this stage that his death and the attack on the Skripals are linked, it said.
UK-Russia relations have been fractious ever since the assassination of another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, in 2006.
The Kremlin, however, has repeatedly denied any involvement and dismissed Johnson's accusation as "shocking and inexcusable". It has been a target for Russian authorities since most of its operations were closed by authorities in many Russian regions 10 years ago.
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The agency is also accused of using personal information of Americans to open bank accounts to fund their operations. The GRU, Russia's military intelligence agency, is believed to be the main culprit for the NotPetya attack.
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