Russian Federation expels 23 United Kingdom diplomats as fallout over nerve agent attack grows

TOPSHOT-GERMANY-SYRIA-CONFLICT-OSCE

TOPSHOT-GERMANY-SYRIA-CONFLICT-OSCE

Moscow will expel 23 British diplomats in retaliation amid escalating tensions over a nerve-agent attack on a former spy in Britain, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Russian Federation today declared 23 British diplomats personas non grata and suspended the opening of a consulate of the United Kingdom in Saint Petersburg and the activities of the British Council in this country, as punitive measures against London.

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

They remain in critical condition in hospital. It ordered the diplomats to leave within a week.

The U.K.'s Foreign Ministry issued a statement reiterating Russia's alleged responsibility for the attack.

And this afternoon Downing Street confirmed the PM had written "to formally invite the OPCW to verify the Government's analysis of the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack".

Earlier, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova reported that all decisions on the response measures to the British side were adopted.

Russian elections are due to take place on Sunday, with Mr Putin seeking a fourth term in office after being in power for 18 years.

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Shortly after the attack, Russia offered their collaboration to investigate the case and requested the United Kingdom government access to the compound used in the attack so that Russian experts could test it in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which both parties have adhered.

BBC reports that UK Prime Minister Theresa May said: "We anticipated a response of this kind".

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson upped the stakes Friday when he said it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally gave the order to use the nerve agent against the Skripals.

Mr Shulgin previously said they had warned Britain that should they fail to produce any evidence, "we will draw the conclusion that London has nothing serious against us and. there will be a question of defamation".

Top EU diplomats were expected to discuss next steps at a meeting Monday, with some calling for a boycott of the upcoming World Cup in Russian Federation.

Russian news agencies cited politicians in Russia's upper house of parliament as welcoming the move to close the British Council, alleging it had been used as a cover by British spies.

Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping mall in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4.

Russian investigators said on Friday they had opened a criminal investigation into the attempted murder of Yulia Skripal and offered to cooperate with British authorities.

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