Russia To Give Nearly Two Dozen British Diplomats The Boot As Tensions Over Poisoning Of Ex-Spy Skyrocket

REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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Russia announced plans Saturday to expel 23 British diplomats and close a local consulate in retaliation after London decided to expel Russian diplomats as punishment for Moscow’s alleged involvement in the poisoning of an ex-spy.

“23 diplomatic personnel from the British Embassy in Moscow have been declared persona non grata,” the Russian foreign ministry revealed, announcing that these individuals have one week to leave the country. The move to expel British diplomats follows a decision Wednesday in London to expel 23 Russian diplomats, according to The Washington Post.

Russia will also close the British consulate in St. Petersburg and the British council at a time that has yet to be determined. “If any further unfriendly actions are taken against Russia, the Russian side reserves the right to take other retaliatory measures,” the Russian foreign ministry explained.

“We anticipated a response of this kind,” Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday. “We will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government.”

Russia promised a tough response after the decision Wednesday to expel Russian diplomats.

Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old former Russian intelligence officer turned double agent, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury earlier this month. The pair remain hospitalized and in critical condition after they were poisoned with a nerve agent known as Novichok, a chemical weapon developed by the Soviet Union in the latter years of the Cold War.

Britain has accused Moscow of attempting an assassination on British soil with illicit chemical weapons. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the “use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K.”

The escalating situation is reminiscent of the murder of ex-KGB operative Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered, presumably by the Russians, in 2006 with a radioactive isotope known as polonium.

In response to this incident, Britain also expelled Russian diplomats, leading Russia to take retaliatory actions of its own, including closing several regional offices of the British Council, which promotes cultural exchange.

British authorities are presently re-investigating the suspicious deaths of 14 people in the U.K., considering carefully allegations that their deaths were tied to Russia. Authorities are investigating what is believed to be the murder of Nikolai Glushkov, who was found dead in his home a few days ago. Glushkov had ties to Boris Berezovsky, a Putin critic and one of the 14 people who died mysteriously.

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