Theresa May dresses down Russia, announces expulsion of 23 diplomats
9:51 AM, Mar 14, 2018
The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats from the country after concluding that the Russian state is responsible for the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.
This will be the single biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats in over 30 years, Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday. The 23 concerned, who May said had been identified as undeclared intelligence agents, will have only one week to leave.
"For those who seek to do us harm, my message is simple. You are not welcome here," she said in a statement to the House of Commons following a meeting of Britain's National Security Council.
The expulsion of diplomats will "fundamentally degrade" Russian intelligence capabilities in Britain for years, May said.
The Skripals are critically ill in hospital after being exposed to the nerve agent, known as Novichok and developed in Russia, on March 4. Thirty-eight other people in Salisbury were seen by medics after the exposure. One, a police officer, remains hospitalized.
May said Monday it was highly likely that Moscow was behind the poisoning. The Russian ambassador to the UK was summoned to the UK Foreign Office to explain whether the attack was directed by Russian authorities, or whether Moscow had lost control of the nerve agent.
She demanded that Moscow respond by midnight Tuesday, London time, to the UK government's conclusion that Russia was linked to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on a park bench in Salisbury in southern England.
But Moscow -- which has repeatedly dismissed any accusations of involvement in the attack -- ignored the deadline.
May: 'Full and robust response'
Addressing lawmakers Wednesday, May said it had been right to give Russia the opportunity to answer the allegations, "but their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events."
The Russians had provided no credible explanation, she said, leading to "no alternative conclusion" other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of the Skripals and for threatening the lives of other British citizens.
"This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom," she said. "And as I set out on Monday it has taken place against the backdrop of a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression across Europe and beyond.
"It must therefore be met with a full and robust response -- beyond the actions we have already taken since the murder of Mr. Litvinenko and to counter this pattern of Russian aggression elsewhere," she added, referring to a different ex-Russian spy -- Alexander Litvinenko -- who was poisoned in London in 2006.
Britain has called for an "urgent meeting of the UN Security Council" to "update members on the investigation into the nerve agent attack in Salisbury," the UK Foreign Office tweeted.
Kremlin: 'Unfounded accusations'
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saidearlier Wednesday that there had been no progress in his country's communications with Britain.
Speaking alongside his Turkish counterpart in Moscow, Lavrov accused UK authorities of "political theater" and trying to mislead the international community rather than submitting an official request to Russia in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. Russia is ready to respond to an official request within 10 days, in line with its obligations, once it is made, Lavrov said.
Lavrov also said that Russia had no motive in targeting the specific individuals concerned and that all allegations were based on speculation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov similarly rejected "unfounded accusations" of Russian involvement in the attack as he spoke with reporters on a conference call.
"Moscow stands open to cooperation in the investigation of these events. Unfortunately, this is not reciprocated by the British," Peskov said, as he urged other countries to use their "common sense" as they consider whether there is any proof to the claims.