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30 Mar, 2018 11:57

Skripal response: Moscow orders UK to cut diplomats to same number as Russian mission in Britain

Skripal response: Moscow orders UK to cut diplomats to same number as Russian mission in Britain

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the UK has been given one month to cut its diplomatic mission in the country to the same number of Russian diplomatic staff in Britain.

The ministry also handed a note of protest to the UK envoy over London’s “provocative actions.” The tit-for-tat measures by Moscow come amid a whirlwind campaign launched by London over the poisoning of Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury earlier in March. 

Top UK officials, including Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, promptly pinned the blame on Moscow, claiming that a military-grade nerve agent called A-234 (also known as ‘Novichok’) was used in the incident.

On Friday, the Russian FM summoned the heads of diplomatic missions from countries that had either already expelled or decided to expel Russian diplomats “in solidarity” with the UK over the Skripal case. All of them were handed notes of protest. 

Among those summoned was UK envoy to Russia Laurie Bristow. He was told that within one month, the British side must cut its diplomatic staff in the embassy and its consulates across Russia to the same size as the Russian diplomatic mission in the UK. No exact numbers were provided to the public.

Moscow also expelled two Italian diplomats and gave them a week to leave the country, the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement. The list included a number of Swedish, Finnish and Polish diplomats as well. They were given several days to leave the country.

Last week, London ordered 23 Russian diplomats to leave the UK as part of sanctions imposed by Theresa May. The family members of the expelled staffers were also forced to leave Britain.

Judging by what London has offered as proof so far, the allegations are merely an assumption, according to the Russian side, which has denied any involvement. UK law enforcement officials say that the probe is still ongoing and officers are likely to continue work in Salisbury “for several weeks and months.”

READ MORE: Johnson says UK to hand Skripal evidence to OPCW as he points finger at Moscow

However, London’s blame game has not garnered full support. Austria said it won’t be joining the punitive measures against Russia. “Indeed, we want to keep the channels of communication to Russia open,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said.

Czech President Milos Zeman called the London claims “a bit superfluous,” and demanded the UK deliver proof of its allegations that Russia had a hand in the Skripal poisoning.

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