Britain has expelled 23 Russian diplomats in a standoff with Russia over the “attempted murder” of former spy Sergei Skripal, Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Wednesday.
“They have one week to leave” the U.K., May said in a statement at the House of Commons, which followed a National Council meeting.
May said Russia was “culpable” for the incident that took place in Salisbury, England on March 4, announcing a series of sanctions against the Russian state.
Russia missed a midnight Tuesday deadline by London to explain how a certain type of military-grade nerve agent was used in the attack.
“But their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said.
“They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent,” she said.
“No explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the U.K.; no explanation as to why Russia has an undeclared chemical weapons program in contravention of international law.
“Instead they have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt, and defiance.”
She said the incident took place “against the backdrop of a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression across Europe and beyond.”
May said they have decided to expel “23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers,” under the Vienna Convention.
“This will be the single biggest expulsion for over 30 years, and it reflects the fact that this is not the first time that the Russian state has acted against our country,” she said.
May added that the expulsions “will fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the U.K. for years to come.”
May said they will urgently “develop proposals for new legislative powers to harden our defenses against all forms of Hostile State Activity.”
“This will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of Hostile State Activity at the U.K. border.”
She also said: “I have asked the home secretary to consider whether there is a need for new counter-espionage powers to clamp down on the full spectrum of hostile activities of foreign agents in our country.”
Freezing Russian assets
The U.K. will also make “full use of existing powers to enhance our efforts to monitor and track the intentions of those travelling to the U.K. who could be engaged in activity that threatens the security of the U.K. and of our allies,” May said.
She said Britain will tighten checks on private flights, customs, and freight.
The U.K. will also “freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of U.K. nationals or residents,” May added.
“And led by the National Crime Agency, we will continue to bring all the capabilities of U.K. law enforcement to bear against serious criminals and corrupt elites. There is no place for these people – or their money – in our country.”
Lavrov visit and World Cup
Following May’s announcement, a planned visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is also now cancelled.
“We will suspend all planned high-level bilateral contacts between the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation,” May announced as part of measures against Russia.
There will be no high-level delegation of British ministers or any royal family members at the Football World Cup, set to take place this June and July in Russia.
“This includes revoking the invitation to Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov to pay a reciprocal visit to the United Kingdom and confirming there will be no attendance by ministers – or indeed members of the Royal family – at this summer’s World Cup in Russia,” May said.
Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were admitted to a hospital after being found unconscious in the southern English city of Salisbury.
“Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia,” specifically from the Novichok group, May said on Monday.
The incident has drawn comparisons to the 2006 death of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko after drinking radioactive tea. Former KGB bodyguards identified as suspects in the murder denied any involvement.
Skripal was granted refuge in the UK following a 2010 spy exchange between the U.S. and Russia. Before the exchange, he was serving 13 years in prison for leaking information to British intelligence.
UN Security Council and NATO
The U.K. has also called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council concerning the incident, according to a statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
A statement from NATO also said the alliance supports the U.K., expressing "deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on Alliance territory since NATO’s foundation."
Allies expressed solidarity with the U.K. and "agreed that the attack was a clear breach of international norms and agreements," the statement said.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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