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UK Expels Russian Diplomats In Retaliation For Poisoning Of Ex-Spy

LONDON ― British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Wednesday that the United Kingdom would expel 23 Russian diplomats after the Kremlin failed to take responsibility for the poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

May had said Monday that it was “highly likely” Russia was behind the incident, given that the nerve agent used in the attack, Novichok, was developed in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. She gave the Kremlin until the end of the day on Tuesday to come up with an explanation for what happened.

Putin’s government, meanwhile, not only rejected this deadline but denies all responsibility and has accused the U.K. of pointing fingers for political purposes. It is also requesting access to the investigation because Skripal’s daughter, Yulia, is a Russian citizen. 

“It is absolutely unacceptable and we consider this a provocation,” Russian ambassador to the U.K. Alexander Yakovenko told Sky News on Wednesday.

Skripal and his daughter, who were found poisoned on a bench in England earlier this month, remain hospitalized in critical but stable condition.

President Donald Trump was silent on the incident until Tuesday, when he said he would condemn Russia if it ended up being found responsible for the attack. 

“It sounds to me like [officials in the U.K.] believe it was Russia, and I would certainly take that finding as fact,” he said.

He reaffirmed U.S. solidarity with Britain in a phone call with May later on Tuesday, agreeing that Russia “must provide unambiguous answers regarding how this chemical weapon, developed in Russia, came to be used in the United Kingdom,” according to the White House.  

European Council President Donald Tusk said he would raise the topic of retaliatory steps next week at a European Union summit, urging “transatlantic unity.” The U.K.’s Foreign Office has also requested an urgent United Nations Security Council meeting to continue the conversation.

Britain responded similarly ― by expelling diplomats, issuing visa restrictions and freezing assets ― after the 2006 assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer who had been living in the U.K. Critics slammed the measures as weak and insufficient at the time.

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