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

British Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow leaves the Russian Foreign Ministry in Moscow Russia

Boris Johnson has said it is "overwhelmingly likely" that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally took the decision to use a nerve agent to attempt to kill the former double agent Sergei Skripal on United Kingdom soil.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Saturday that "23 diplomatic personnel from the British Embassy in Moscow have been declared persona non grata" and have one week to leave.

The ministry said it was also closing the British consulate in Saint Petersburg and withdrawing the right of the British Council, a body that promotes British culture and language, to operate in Russian Federation.

On March 12, Prime Minister Theresa May claimed it was "highly likely" that Russian Federation was to blame, after Britain identified the substance as a type of nerve agent developed by the Soviet military. "That is why we are at odds with Russia", Johnson said. "It is Russian Federation that is in flagrant breach of worldwide law and the Chemical Weapons Convention", the Foreign Office said in a statement. In 2008, the British Council's regional offices in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg were closed, leaving only the head office in Moscow open.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry cast Russia as the aggrieved party, asserting that Russia was acting "in response to the unfounded accusation against the Russian Federation for what happened in Salisbury".

Britain had been widely expecting a robust response from Russian Federation, but it was immediately unclear whether there would be further retaliatory moves.

A tent erected at the London Road cemetery in Salisbury, Wiltshire, over the memorial stone of Alexandr Skripal, the son of former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal who along with his daughter Yulia, was found slumped on a bench in Salisbury, critically ill by exposure to a nerve agent.

More news: Russian Federation expels 23 British diplomats in spy poisoning crisis

Alexei Chepa, deputy head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said Saturday that he expected additional measures to be taken by the British government in response to Russia's actions today.

Britain on Wednesday ordered the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats, many of whom were said by Prime Minister Theresa May to be Russian intelligence officers, after Moscow ignored an ultimatum to provide an explanation for how a Russian nerve agent came to be used in the poisoning of a former spy on British soil.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on March 16 said that it was "overwhelmingly likely" that Russian President Vladimir Putin made the decision to use the toxin against Skripal. The officer is reportedly now in stable condition.

It has also been suggested that up to four mysterious deaths with links to Russian Federation might be reopened in the wake of the Skripal case.

Skripal, 66, was a retired Russian military intelligence colonel who was convicted of treason in 2006 for passing the identities of Russian intelligence agents to Britain's Secret Intelligence Service. Police said Glushkov died as a result of a "compression of the neck", suggesting he may have been strangled.

Less than 10 days later, Russian exile Nikolai Glushkov was found dead at his home in New Malden, South West London.

London's Metropolitan police counter-terrorism command has said there is no suggestion that Glushkov's death is connected to the poisoning attack, but that they are investigating because "of associations Mr Glushkov is believed to have had". Britain said the assistance in that case was not enough, and in 2016, a judge-led inquiry concluded that Putin had probably approved Litvinenko's murder, something Moscow denies.

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