Russia's United Kingdom diplomat expulsion 'doesn't change facts of matter' says May

Vladimir Gerdo  TASS

Vladimir Gerdo TASS

Russia announced Saturday it will expel 23 British diplomats and close the British consulate in St. Petersburg as part of its response to London's decision to expel Russian diplomats in an escalating row over the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in Britain earlier this month.

"23 diplomatic officers of British Embassy in Moscow are declared personae non-gratae and are expelled from the country within a week".

The move, which was tougher than expected, followed Britain's decision on Wednesday to expel 23 Russian diplomats over the attack in the English city of Salisbury which left former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, critically ill in hospital. The British Council is a cultural institute with artistic, language and educational programs.

Russian Foreign Ministry informed in its announcement.

That will be seen by Britain as a low blow, hurting the Russian people - not the British government. The two remain in critical condition.

Bristow told reporters afterwards that the crisis had arisen after "the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russia".

Britain's foreign secretary accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the poisoning of the Skripals.

The UK government says they were poisoned with a nerve agent of a type developed by Russia called Novichok - the Russian government denies any involvement in the attack.

The British Foreign Office insisted that "Russia's response doesn't change the facts of the matter" and that "the onus remains on the Russian state to account for their actions". Bristow accused the Putin regime of conducting an attack "upon the global rules-based system on which all countries, all countries including Russian Federation, depend for their safety and security".

"We are profoundly disappointed at this development", the British Council said in a statement.

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Britain's National Security Council will meet in the next few days to "consider next steps", the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London said in a statement yesterday.

Britain, the United States, Germany and France have jointly called on Russia to explain the attack, while US President Donald Trump has said it looks as if the Russians were behind it.

Skripal had taken his daughter, who was on a visit from Moscow, out for lunch in Salisbury before they both collapsed on a bench. United Kingdom officials believe the Skripals were exposed to a nerve agent known as Novichok that was developed in Russian Federation.

It ordered the diplomats to leave within a week.

About 400 witnesses have already come forward in what is "extremely challenging and complex investigation", Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu of London's Metropolitan Police 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. British police said Friday that he died from compression to the neck and opened a murder investigation.

Meanwhile the Investigative Committee, which reports to Putin, opened a probe into the "attempted premeditated murder" of Skripal's daughter, a Russian national, which it said had been "carried out in a way that was risky to the public".

TRT World's Simon McGregor-Wood reports from Moscow.

Russian Federation offered some cooperation to British authorities after the 2006 London murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko too.

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