Spy poisoning: Russia expels ‘unfriendly’ Western diplomats


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Moscow has described Western expulsions as ‘unfriendly’

Russia has ordered the expulsion of more diplomats from Western countries in a tit-for-tat response over the poisoning of an ex-spy in the UK.

The retaliatory measure comes a day after Russia kicked out 60 US diplomats and closed the St Petersburg consulate.

Moscow rejects UK accusations that it is behind the nerve agent attack.

On Friday the Russian government called in Britain’s ambassador to order him to cut diplomatic staff to the same level as Russia’s presence in the UK.

Both countries have already expelled 23 staff. Moscow also ordered the closure of the British Council.

Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia collapsed in Salisbury, England, on 4 March. Mr Skripal remains in a critical but stable condition. Yulia’s condition is said to be improving.

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EPA/ Yulia Skripal/Facebook

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Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, have been in hospital since the attack

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday issued a warning over “a situation that is similar, to a large extent, to what we lived during the Cold War”.

Who is being ordered out?

Twenty-nine countries have expelled 145 Russian officials in solidarity with the UK – and Nato has also ordered 10 Russians out of its mission in Belgium.

The US expelled the largest single number – 60 diplomats – and closed the Russian consulate general in Seattle.

Russia reciprocated on Thursday declaring 58 US diplomats in Moscow and two in the city of Yekaterinburg to be “personae non gratae”.

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Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would respond “in kind”

The US said it had been expecting the move and warned it may take further action.

On Friday, Western ambassadors from the countries that had expelled Russians were called in to be told of Moscow’s retaliation.

What is Russia’s argument?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blamed “harsh pressure from the United States and Britain under the pretext of the so-called Skripal case”.

He reiterated Russian calls for consular access to Yulia Skripal – a Russian citizen.

Russia, he said, was also seeking a meeting with leaders of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to “establish the truth”.

On Friday, in addition to the new Western expulsions, UK Ambassador Laurie Bristow was called in to the Russian foreign ministry to be handed a protest note that said Britain’s “provocative actions” had led to the decision by other governments to expel Russians.

It also said Britain would have to further reduce its diplomatic representation in Russia. It is not clear how many more British officials would have to leave. Before the expulsion of the 23 Russians, the UK’s Foreign Office listed 60 Russian officials working in the UK.

Another four are posted at the Russian consulate general in Edinburgh.

UK National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill has said expulsions by Western countries are aimed at rooting out covert Russian intelligence networks.

What do we know about the nerve agent?

Britain says the chemical used in the attack was part of a group of nerve agents developed by the Soviet Union known as Novichok.

OPCW has sent a team to the UK to investigate samples of the agent Britain says was used.

The results are expected to take a minimum of two weeks, the government says.

Police say the Skripals first came into contact with the nerve agent at Mr Skripal’s home in Salisbury, with the highest concentration found on the front door.

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