Russia has expelled twenty-three British diplomats in retaliation for the expulsion of twenty-three Russian diplomats by Great Britain, last week over the alleged assassination attempt of a Russian ex-pat living in England since 2010.
“Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said. “The attempted assassination of two people on British soil for which there is no alternative conclusion other than the Russian state was culpable. It is Russia that is in flagrant breach of international law and the chemical weapons convention.”
May explained that the disagreement does not extend to the Russian people. “Many Russians have made this country their home,” she said. “And those who abide by our laws and make a contribution to our society will always be welcome. But we will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government.”
Sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia, were found slumped on a bench in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London on March 4. Authorities determined that the Skripals are suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent” identified as Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.
The Skripals remain hospitalized in critical condition. Sgt. Nick Baily, a British Detective, also remains hospitalized. His condition has been described as serious but stable. Bailey visited Skripal’s home at the outset of the investigation.
Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the countries and has been living in Salisbury since. His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.
In addition to the expulsion of the diplomats, Russia also announced it was closing the British Consulate in St. Petersburg and the British Council in Russia, which promotes cultural exchanges between the two nations. The closing of the council is believed to be especially damaging because it encourages one-to-one relationships that serves young people.
Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it had called British ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow to the ministry and informed him that the twenty-three diplomats were now “persona non grata” and had one week to leave.
Bristow said he spent about ten minutes in the foreign ministry where he was handed Russia’s responses. “We gave Russia the opportunity to explain how the material got to Salisbury,” Bristow said to reporters outside the Ministry, “and we asked Russia to declare that material that had that capability, to the organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Russia did neither, therefore we announced certain steps. Russia, today, has informed me of steps that Russia would be taking in response to that.”
“We will always do what is necessary to defend ourselves, and our allies and our values against an attack of this sort, which is an attack not only on the United Kingdom but upon the international rules based system on which all countries, including Russia, depend for their safety and security,” he added.
Russia has denied any involvement in the Skripal case and says the actions announced were in response to what it called the UK’s “provocative actions and unfounded accusations” in the case.
The U.K., along with allies France, Germany, and the U.S. issued a joint statement on Thursday condemning the attacks and calling on Russia to answer all questions raised by it.
“We share the United Kingdom’s assessment that there is no plausible alternative explanation, and note that Russia’s failure to address the legitimate request by the government of the United Kingdom further underlines Russia’s responsibility. We call on Russia to address all questions related to the attack in Salisbury.”