Russia has expelled 23 British diplomats as tensions mount over Moscow’s role in nerve agent attack on British soil.
The Russian foreign ministry summoned the British ambassador on Saturday to inform him of the decision, which was taken in retaliation against the UK’s earlier expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats. Moscow has also shut down the Russian branch of the British Council, a public organisation that promotes British culture and the English language abroad.
The diplomatic relationship between Russia and the UK has deteriorated following the poisoning of former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia in Salisbury on the 4th March.
Speaking to Parliament after the incident, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced that Novichoks, a group of military-grade nerve agents manufactured only in Russia, had been used in the attack. Mrs May condemned the attack, claiming that either the Russian state were directly responsible, or that Moscow had ‘lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent’. Russian diplomats were expelled after Moscow failed to comply with Mrs May’s deadline for a “credible response”.
A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson has warned that Russia would retaliate if Britain takes any further ‘unfriendly actions’. Former British ambassador to Moscow Sir Roderic Lyne also advised against further tit-for-tat measures, saying, ‘It is not sensible to mud-wrestle with a gorilla’.
The UK government’s range of possible options is limited, and withdrawing the England team from the Football World Cup, which is due to take place in Russia this summer, is apparently not on the table. The Guardian reports that UK officials are considering persuading allies not to congratulate Putin on his upcoming election victory. Officials may also be sounding out European allies on their willingness to expel Russian diplomats from their respective territories.
Although no EU country other than Britain has so far announced sanctions against Russia, European allies have offered their support for the UK’s position. US President Donald Trump also offered his support, but he has been criticised for what is seen as a comparatively weak response.