UK expels 23 Russian diplomats over nerve agent attack

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British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that 23 Russian diplomats are to be expelled following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury.

She told the House of Commons that all high-level planned bilateral meetings with Russian are suspended and no member of the Royal family will travel to Russia for the forthcoming football World Cup.

This includes the revocation of an invitation for foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to visit the UK and “there will be no attendance by ministers or indeed members of the Royal Family at this summer’s World Cup in Russia.”

She said the Russian state is culpable for the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

She said the British government would “urgently develop proposals”  for new legislative powers to “harden our defences against all forms of hostile state activity”.

“This will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the UK border.

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“This power is currently only permitted in relation to those suspected of terrorism.”

The PM has also asked Home Secretary Amber Rudd to consider whether there is a need for new counter-espionage powers to “clamp down on the full spectrum of hostile activities of foreign agents in our country”.

She told MPs the National Security Council had agreed “immediate actions to dismantle the Russian espionage network in the UK”.

There would be “urgent work to develop new powers to tackle all forms of hostile state activity and to ensure that those seeking to carry out such activity cannot enter the UK”.

In a statement the Russian Embassy said: “On March 14 Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he was informed that 23 diplomats were declared personae non gratae.

“We consider this hostile action as totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted.

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“All the responsibility for the deterioration of the Russia-UK relationship lies with the current political leadership of Britain.”

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council will meet this afternoon to be briefed on the investigation into the incident, United Nations diplomats and the Foreign Office said.

The UK has called for an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

Britain will brief council members during the open meeting at 7pm on the nerve agent that left Mr Skripal and his daughter in critical condition, the British mission to the United Nations said.

Russia has said that it is in no way connected to the poisoning in Salisbury earlier this month.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the accusations against Russia are groundless.

He said it was too early to say what that response would be.

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“Moscow does not accept unfounded accusations that are not based on evidence and a language of ultimatums,” Mr Peskov told reporters.

“We are hoping that common sense will prevail,” he said in the Kremlin’s first public response to British accusations that Russia was likely behind the attempted murder Mr Skripal.

Meanwhile, British counter-terrorism officers began investigating the death of another Russian in Britain yesterday, although police said it was not thought to be linked to the attack on the Skripals.

Nikolai Glushkov, 68, who was an associate of late tycoon Boris Berezovsky, was found dead on Monday.

Mr Berezovsky was found dead in March 2013 in the bathroom of his luxury mansion west of London.

Mr Berezovsky’s death, which police and forensic experts concluded was suicide, although a coroner said he could not rule out foul play, is one of 14 deaths in Britain linked to the Russian state in recent years, which Home Secretary Amber Rudd said authorities would look at again.

RTE News

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