Theresa May has announced the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats since the Cold War, after Moscow refused to offer an explanation as to how a Soviet-developed nerve agent was used in an assassination attempt on a former double agent.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has given 23 Russian diplomats a week to leave the country, in a move she believes will set back Russian intelligence capabilities in the UK for years.
In the House of Commons on Wednesday evening, May outlined a raft of measures to punish the Kremlin for the “sarcasm, contempt and defiance” it showed in response to the 24-hour ultimatum it was given to explain the assassination attempt on former spy Sergei Skripal.
This was not just an act of attempted murder in Salisbury – nor just an act against UK. It is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons. pic.twitter.com/iMh3CfvCy8
— Theresa May (@theresa_may) March 14, 2018
The nerve agent attack has left Skripal and his daughter Yulia fighting for life, and has seen close to 40 others seek medical attention. Other than the Skripals, British Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey was the worst affected, but is believed to be recovering well.
The most drastic measure is the expulsion of the 23 diplomats, whom the government believes are undeclared spies. It is the biggest clean out of its kind since the Cold War.
On top of that, May has suspended all planned high-level diplomatic contact with Moscow, which includes rescinding the visitation invite to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Sanctions will then be imposed on companies and individuals, however the government is yet to name targets.
And the PM has confirmed that neither the royal family or British ministers will attend the football World Cup in Russia in June.
While England is still expected to compete at this stage, there is pressure coming from Labour MPs to boycott the event.
The FA will continue to work closely with the UK Government and relevant authorities regarding our participation in this summer’s FIFA World Cup and the Women’s World Cup qualifier in June.
— FA Spokesperson (@FAspokesperson) March 14, 2018
“[Russia’s] response demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said in her statement.
“They have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.
“There is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter.”
She now expects a “robust international response” when the UN Security Council meets in New York.
Britain braces for Russian response
The Russian Foreign Ministry promised swift retaliation against the British measures, which it says are “short-sighted”.
“The British Government has made a choice in favour of confrontation with Russia,” it said.
The British Government has made a choice in favour of confrontation with Russia.
This follows President Vladimir Putin’s statement yesterday that he would not cooperate with “London’s ultimatum”, as Moscow sees the whole saga as an anti-Moscow campaign.
The Russian embassy in London has even laughed off the UK’s show of force, tweeting: “The temperature of [Russian and Britain] relations drops to -23 but we are not afraid of cold weather.”
The temperature of 🇷🇺 🇬🇧 relations drops to ➖2️⃣3️⃣, but we are not afraid of cold weather. pic.twitter.com/mand9YyoaE
— Russian Embassy, UK (@RussianEmbassy) March 14, 2018
Indeed, a Russia expert at Chatham House think-tank in London believes May’s actions have shown weakness.
“This is certainly not a strong response from Britain — it is a mild response,” said Mathieu Boulegue.
“It will not deter Russia because Britain is showing too little steel.”