Investigators in protective suits work at the scene near the Maltings shopping centre in Salisbury, England, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. The use of Russian-developed nerve agent Novichok to poison ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter makes it “highly likely” that Russia was involved, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Monday. Novichok refers to a class of nerve agents developed in the Soviet Union near the end of the Cold War.(Andrew Matthews/PA via AP)

UK expels 23 Russian diplomats over spy poisoning

Russia will only cooperate with Britain on the investigation into last week’s poisoning if it receives samples of the nerve agent that is believed to have been used

Britain announced Wednesday it will expel almost two dozen Russian diplomats, sever high-level bilateral contacts with Moscow and take both open and covert action against Kremlin meddling after the poisoning of a former spy, plunging U.K.-Russian relations into their deepest freeze since the Cold War.

Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers that 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers have a week to leave the country.

May spoke after Moscow ignored a midnight deadline to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used against Sergei and Yulia Skripal. The father and daughter remain in critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury, southwestern England, after being found unconscious on March 4.

Related: Russian spy attacked with nerve agent

May said Russia had provided no explanation, and “there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter.”

She announced a range of economic and diplomatic measures, including the suspension of high-level bilateral contacts with Russia. An invitation for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to visit Britain has been cancelled, and May said British ministers and royals will not attend the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.

May also said Britain would clamp down on murky Russian money and strengthen its powers to impose sanctions on abusers of human rights — though she gave few details.

“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, promising to use all possible legal powers against criminals and corrupt elites.

“There is no place for these people — or their money — in our country,” she said.

The Russian embassy in London said the expulsion of diplomats was “totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted.”

“All the responsibility for the deterioration of the Russia-UK relationship lies with the current political leadership of Britain,” it said in a statement.

Russian ambassador Alexander Yakovenko, said Britain’s actions were “a provocation.”

Critics of the British government have long claimed that the U.K. is reluctant to act against Russia because London’s property market and financial sector are magnets for billions in Russian money.

Some Russia experts said the measures announced by May were unlikely to make Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government change its behaviour. She did not expel Russia’s ambassador or announce sanctions against any individuals.

“There does not seem to be any real appetite so far to investigate the ill-gotten gains of the Russian elite that have been laundered through London,” said John Lough, an associate fellow in the Eurasia program at the Chatham House think-tank.

“It is not clear to me that London’s response will hit the Kremlin where it hurts.”

Moscow refused to comply with Britain’s demands that it explain how Novichok — a form of nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War — came to be used in Britain. Russia said the U.K. must first provide samples of the poison collected by investigators.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Britain has offered “baseless accusations which are not backed up by any evidence.” He said Russia would co-operate with the investigation but does not see Britain’s willingness to reciprocate.

“We hope reason will prevail and other countries will think hard how serious the evidence against Russia is,” he said.

Russia has claimed that the nerve agent could have come from another former Soviet country, pointing to Moscow’s foe, Ukraine.

Lawmaker Vladimir Gutenev, a member of the state commission for chemical disarmament, said Russia had scrapped its stockpile of Novichok.

“It is hard to say what may be happening in neighbouring countries,” he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Related: Russia hackers had targets worldwide

Britain has sought support from allies in the European Union and NATO, including the United States. May’s office said President Donald Trump told the prime minister the U.S. was “with the U.K. all the way.”

On Wednesday it also called for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the investigation.

European Council President Donald Tusk said Wednesday that the attack was “most likely” inspired by Moscow and announced he would put the issue on the agenda at an EU leaders’ summit next week.

May said Russia’s use of a chemical weapon was “an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. And it is an affront to the rules-based system on which we and our international partners depend.”

“We will work with our allies and partners to confront such actions wherever they threaten our security, at home and abroad,” she said.

___

Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this story.

By Jill Lawless And Danica Kirka, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov smiles during a meeting with South Korean head of National Security Chung Eui-yong at the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow,Tuesday March 13, 2018. Russia will only cooperate with Britain on the investigation into last week’s poisoning of an ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia if it receives samples of the nerve agent that is believed to have been used, Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

Just Posted

Terrace teen on life support after contracting serious viral infection

Sebastian Stewart was medically evacuated to Vancouver General Hospital on April 25

UPDATE: No charges for Terrace Mounties in relation to 2016 suicide

RCMP officers used Tasers to try to apprehend Nicolas Jeppesen before he took his own life

Police ramping up for long weekend

Terrace RCMP partnering with other agencies to add extra enforcement

Sulphur dioxide pollution over Kitimat could be eliminated after 2024

New process will eliminate SO2 as a byproduct

Kitimat, Terrace home sales up from 2017

Optimism surrounding a potentially positive LNG decision one of the factors

VIDEO: After the floods, comes the cleanup as Grand Forks rebuilds

Business owners in downtown wonder how long it will take for things to go back to normal

Rachel Notley to skip premiers conference to focus on pipeline deal

Kinder Morgan has ceased all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline project until it receives assurances

B.C. tech company will power Uber Elevate

Moli and Uber announce research and development partnership.

UPDATE: Woman dies in ocean accident near Tofino hours before daughter’s wedding

“We are so thankful to everyone who helped our mom.”

Olympian sues USA Swimming, saying it failed to protect her

Ariana Kukors Smith alleges her former coach Sean Hutchison began grooming her for sexual abuse at the age of 13

Defence minister thanks troops for B.C. flood relief work

Harjit Sajjan says not only was military response quick, support from locals has been ‘tremendous’

Couple survives being buried in mudslide on B.C. highway

The couple, from Saskatchewan, were en route to Nelson when a tree fell in their path

‘So grateful:’ Injured Bronco hockey player glad he’s alive, works on recovery

Ryan Straschnitzki was badly hurt in the accident: a spinal injury, broken ribs, a broken collar bone, and punctured lung

PHOTOS: Floodwaters rise and fall in Grand Forks

The flood-ravaged Kootenay-Boundary region begins to heal

Most Read