Russia Expels 23 British Diplomats, Escalating Row Over Ex-Spy's Poisoning

Russia's foreign ministry summoned Britain's ambassador to the country, Laurie Bristow, for a meeting on Saturday, Russian news agencies reported, citing an unidentified ministry source.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was giving the 23 British diplomats one week to leave the country. Besides, none have used nerve agents in the Russian Federation. "We will always do what is necessary to defend ourselves", the ambassador told reporters.

As he left the ministry, Mr Bristow said: "This crisis has arisen as a result of an appalling attack in the United Kingdom, the attempted murder of two people using a chemical weapon developed in Russian Federation and not declared by Russian Federation to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as Russian Federation is obliged to do under the Chemical Weapons Act". Britain had only expelled the Russian diplomats after Moscow had failed to explain how the nerve toxin had got to Britain, he said.

Russian Federation is to expel 23 British diplomats, close the British Council in Russian Federation and withdraw permission for Britain to open general consulate in St Petersburg.

The action came after May ordered out the largest number of Russian diplomats from London in 30 years and broke off all high-level contacts on Wednesday.

The statement said the government could take further measures if Britain takes any more "unfriendly" moves toward Russian Federation.

They were thought to be poisoned by a deadly nerve agent called Novichok and remain critically ill in hospital. The closure of the consulate in St. Petersburg was not given a firm deadline, with the Foreign Ministry saying only that they will be given sufficient time to wrap up their work there. When Russia finally made its announcement Saturday, it went slightly beyond strictly reciprocal measures.

The move marks the latest development in the diplomatic spat over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March.

Speaking after the crisis talks, ambassador Laurie Bristow said the United Kingdom will "always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, our allies and our values against an attack of this sort".

Britain's foreign secretary accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the poisoning.

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