March 14, 2018 1:51 pm
LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May said Wednesday Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow failed to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used to poison an ex-spy and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
The move marks the largest expulsion of diplomats from Britain since the Cold War and May said her government will cancel all high-level bilateral contacts with Russia.
She said the use of the nerve agent against Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia, 33, amounted to an “unlawful use of force” against Britain with chemical weapons.
“(Russia’s) response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said in a statement to Parliament.
“They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent. No explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the United Kingdom; 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.
It’s been confirmed the use of Russian-developed nerve agent Novichok was used to poison ex-spy Sergei Skirpal and his daughter. This animation shows how nerve agents attack the nervous system. (March 13) AP
The diplomats, who have not been named but were described by May as “undeclared intelligence officers,” were given one week to leave. She also revoked an invitation to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and said the British royal family would not attend the soccer World Cup that Russia is due to host later this year.
“We will 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 said.
She said that she had spoken to Britain’s international allies including President Trump, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron and that they had agreed to “cooperate closely in responding to this barbaric act.”
The Kremlin rejected British claims that it was involved in the poisoning incident and said it would not accept any British ultimatum over the issue.
“Moscow’s stance is well-known, London was told about Moscow’s position through diplomatic channels: Moscow has no connection to the incident that took place in the United Kingdom,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Russia media reported.
“Moscow won’t accept absolutely unfounded accusations against it, which are not substantiated by any evidence, and won’t accept the language of ultimatum,” he said.
The Skripals remain in a critical condition in a British hospital after they were found slumped unconscious on a park bench in Salisbury on March 4. Salisbury is about 90 miles west of London. The pair had been on a shopping trip.
Outspoken critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin have been killed or died in mysterious circumstances, including journalists, opposition politicians and exiled tycoons, but it is not clear why the Skripals may have been targeted.
Police in the southwest of England reported that two people are in critical condition and are being treated for suspected exposure to an unknown substance. USA TODAY
Stanglin reported from Mclean, Va..
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