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

Information Center of the Central Election Commission in Moscow

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it is also ordering the closure of the British Council in Russia and ending an agreement to reopen the British consulate in St. Petersburg.

Russia's government is expelling 23 British diplomats and threatening further measures in retaliation in a growing diplomatic dispute over a nerve agent attack on a former spy in Britain.

The expulsion marks the latest turn in a confrontation between Russia and the United Kingdom following the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the southern English town of Salisbury.

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.

In addition, according to the statement, the activity of the British Council in Russian Federation had been suspended over the lack of proper regulation, regarding its status.

Russia's foreign ministry summoned Britain's ambassador to the country, Laurie Bristow, for a meeting on Saturday, Russian news agencies reported, citing an unidentified ministry source.

The foreign ministry said Moscow's measures were a response to what it called Britain's "provocative actions and groundless accusations".

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On March 12 British Prime Minister Theresa May says it is "highly likely that Russian Federation was responsible for the act", saying Moscow could be directly to blame or may have "lost control" of the nerve agent.

On March 15 Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. say in a rare joint declaration that "there is no plausible alternative explanation" to Russian involvement and call on Moscow to provide "full and complete disclosure" of the Soviet-era chemical programme that developed Novichok. They came hours before Scotland Yard said it was treating the death of another Russian expatriate, who was a close associate of a prominent Putin critic, as a murder. "That is why we're at odds with Russian Federation". "Any reference to, any mentioning of, our president in this context is nothing else but a shocking, unforgivable breach of diplomatic proprieties".

Sergei Skripal moved to Salisbury after being jailed for passing Russian state secrets to British intelligence while working for the Russian government in the 1990s.

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He had lived quietly for years in Salisbury, and it is unclear what might have prompted an attempt - by the Kremlin or anyone else - to kill him.

A Russian lawmaker warned Britain against escalating the crisis. British officials say military-grade nerve agent was used.

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