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RUSSIA expels 23 British diplomats in retaliation

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British consulate in St. Petersburg also ordered closed
Foreign Ministry tells British Council to stop work in Russia

BLOOMBERG – Russia ordered the expulsion of 23 British diplomats in retaliation for the U.K.’s ouster of the same number of Kremlin envoys over the nerve-agent poisoning near London of a former spy and his daughter.

The British consulate in St. Petersburg was also ordered to close and the British Council must stop its work in Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a website statement Saturday. U.K. Ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned to the ministry and told the measures are “in response to the provocative actions of the British side and the unsubstantiated accusations” against Russia, the ministry said.

British ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow outside the offices of the Russian Foreign Ministry in Smolenskaya Square on March 17.  Photographer: Artyom Geodakyan/Tass via Getty Images

BLOOMBERG – Russia ordered the expulsion of 23 British diplomats in retaliation for the U.K.’s ouster of the same number of Kremlin envoys over the nerve-agent poisoning near London of a former spy and his daughter.

The British consulate in St. Petersburg was also ordered to close and the British Council must stop its work in Russia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a website statement Saturday. U.K. Ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned to the ministry and told the measures are “in response to the provocative actions of the British side and the unsubstantiated accusations” against Russia, the ministry said.

The action came after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May accused Moscow on Wednesday of an “unlawful use of force” involving weapons-grade nerve agent and ordered out the largest number of Russian diplomats from London in 30 years. She also broke off all high-level contacts over the chemical attack that poisoned former Kremlin double-agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the city of Salisbury on March 4. The pair remain in critical condition.

The first use of a nerve agent on European soil since World War II is a direct challenge to the Western alliance, days before elections are almost certain to give Vladimir Putin a fourth term as Russia’s president.

‘Appalling Attack’

“This crisis has arisen as a result of an appalling attack” in the U.K. involving “a chemical weapon developed in Russia and not declared by Russia at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as Russia was and is obliged to do,” Bristow told reporters in televised comments after leaving the ministry.

Russia gave the British diplomats one week to leave. “If further actions of an unfriendly nature are taken against Russia, the Russian side reserves the right to take other retaliatory measures,” the ministry said.

U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron backed the U.K. in a joint statement with May on Thursday and said there’s “no plausible alternative explanation” to Russian responsibility.

Russia denies involvement and warned for days that it would reply to the U.K.’s expulsion of 40 percent of its diplomats in London. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denounced the British accusations as “absolutely rude, unsubstantiated and baseless.”

Russia’s response is “moderate, expected and appropriate,” said Oleg Morozov, a former senior Kremlin official who now sits on the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of parliament. “It’s impossible not to respond in this situation. Britain is acting too defiantly.”

These “are practically tit-for-tat measures, symbolic and reversible,” Moscow-based foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Frolov said. “I wouldn’t call them an escalation.”

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