On March 14th British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow failed to explain the use of a Russian-made nerve agent used to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who were found unconscious on a shopping center bench in the city of Salisbury. British authorities confirmed that a nerve agent called Novichok was used on the Skripals. The Skripals remain in a British hospital in critical condition.
This is the largest expulsion of diplomats from Britain since the Cold War. May said that the nerve agent used on the Skripals was an “unlawful use of force” against Britain and that “All who have been identified as declared intelligence officers: they have just one week to leave.” May also added that no British officials or members of the Royal family will attend the World Cup, being hosted in Russia this year.
Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko said the United Kingdom’s actions were “unacceptable,” and a “serious provocation.” Moscow is refusing to comply with May’s demands unless the government provides samples of the poison collected by investigators.
On March 14th U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley said the Trump administration “stands in absolute solidarity with Great Britain.” Haley said Washington agrees with the UK assessment that the Russians are behind the poisoning and demanded a firm international response.
Russian intelligence has a long history of targeting defectors on British soil.
In November of 2006 Russian agents killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko using the radioactive agent polonium-210. Litvinenko was an officer with the Federal Security Service (FSB) but fled to Britain, becoming a British citizen and critic of the Kremlin.
Four Russian diplomats were expelled from Brittan over the killing, and Britain broke off ties with Russia’s security services. The Russians responded by expelling four British diplomats. An inquiry set up by the government concluded Mr. Litvinenko’s death was “probably” approved by President Putin.
The UK government has said it will enforce new sanctions as well as begin detaining individuals suspected of ties to hostile state activity at the border. They will also increase checks on private flights and customs coming from Russia, and freeze Russian assets being used to compromise British security.
Leaders from the United States, Germany, and France have joined the UK in a joint statement which holds Russia responsible for the recent nerve attack. The four countries said in a joint statement that “It is an assault on U.K. sovereignty and any such use by a State party is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and a breach of international law.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said on March 15th that, “it certainly looks like the Russians were behind it.”
Russia is expected to take retaliatory measures. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision will come from President Vladimir Putin and it will “best reflect Russian interests.”