Britain has announced it will expel 23 Russian diplomats — the biggest such expulsion since the Cold War — and break off high-level contacts with the Kremlin over the nerve-agent attack on a former spy and his daughter in an English town.
“Under the Vienna Convention, the United Kingdom will now expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers,” Ms May told parliament.
“They have just one week to leave.”
Ms May said the biggest expulsions from London in 30 years would degrade Russian intelligence capabilities in Britain for years to come.
She announced a range of economic and diplomatic measures, including the suspension of high-level bilateral contacts with Russia.
Ms May also said Britain would clamp down on murky Russian money and strengthen its powers to impose sanctions on abusers of human rights.
“We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents,” Ms May said, without giving details.
While announcing the measures against the Russian state, Ms May assured Russians living in Britain they are welcome.
“We have no disagreement with the people of Russia,” she said. “It is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.”
“We will not tolerate the threat to life of British people and others on British soil from the Russian Government, nor will we tolerate such a flagrant breach of Russia’s international obligations.”
‘Unlawful use of force’
Ms May announced the measures 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, south-western England.
Facebook: Yulia Skripal (R))
Ms May accused Moscow of reacting with “disdain” to Britain’s request for an explanation and said Russia’s actions were “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”
“It is an affront to the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons,” May said.
“And it is an affront to the rules-based system on which we and our international partners depend.”
Russia’s ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, said Britain’s actions were “absolutely unacceptable” and “a provocation.”
Russia ‘rejects the language of ultimatums’
In response to Ms May’s speech, Russia’s deputy chairman of the international affairs committee of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Vladimir Dzhabarov, said he did not rule out that Moscow could expel more than 23 British diplomats from Russia, RIA news agency said.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Russia “rejects the language of ultimatums”.
Mr Peskov said Britain has so far only offered “baseless accusations which are not backed up by any evidence”.
He said Russia would cooperate 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, the nerve agent used against the Skripals.
“It is hard to say what may be happening in neighbouring countries,” he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
Britain has sought support from allies in the European Union and NATO, including the United States.
Ms May’s office says President Donald Trump told the prime minister the US was “with the UK all the way.”
On Wednesday it also called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the investigation.
European Council president Donald Tusk said 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.