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14 Mar, 2018 11:59

Russia is ‘culpable’ over ex-double agent poisoning, claims Theresa May

Russia is ‘culpable’ over ex-double agent poisoning, claims Theresa May

Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats and suspend all high-level contact with the country, Prime Minister Theresa May said. It comes as part of a range of measures in response to the poisoning of ex-double agent Sergei Skripal.

May said Russia has provided no credible explanation, and has instead responded with sarcasm and disdain. She said Russia is “culpable” for the Skripal incident, which represents unlawful use of force against the UK.

The PM iterated that the 23 Russian diplomats have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers. It will be the largest expulsion for 30 years. They will have a week to leave, the UK PM added.

She added the government will consider new anti-espionage legislation. May said the government will include Magnitsky-type amendments to an existing sanctions bill. Continuing, the UK leader said the government will increase checks on Russians coming into the country.

“While our response must be robust it must also remain true to our values,” May said. “Many Russians make valuable contribution to this country and will be welcome. But for those who wish to do us harm the message is clear, you are not welcome.”

May also confirmed no ministers or members of the royal family would attend the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

The UK government is pushing for a debate at the UN, May added, saying that the government is also trying to ensure the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) can verify the UK claims.

Concluding, May asserted that there “are other measures we stand ready to employ should we receive any further Russian provocation.”

In response, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the incident with Skripal was an “appalling act of violence.” It was “utterly reckless” to use such a nerve agent in a civilian environment, Corbyn said.

Corbyn asked whether the government had responded to Russian demands for a sample of the agent allegedly used against Skripal. He went on to ask what information there was about where the nerve agent came from.

READ MORE: Britain seeks urgent UN Security Council meeting over Salisbury spy attack

He continued, asking May whether she agrees with him it that is necessary to maintain a robust dialogue with Russia. Corbyn said the UK and its allies should urge Russia to reveal full details of its chemical weapons program to the OPCW.

It is a matter of huge regret that diplomatic capacity has been cut, the Labour leader added. May responded by criticizing Corbyn for his decision not to condemn the Russian state.

Speaking in the House, Labour MP Chris Bryant called for Russia's Ambassador to Britain Alexander Yakovenko to “go home.” He claimed the Russian ambassador had “lied to the Commons” and stopped Russia-related issues being debated in Parliament. Bryant did not provide any examples to back up his claim.

In response to a question from an MP, May reiterated that whether RT has its broadcast license revoked is a matter for media regulator Ofcom, not the government.

Yakovenko warned London on Wednesday of reciprocal measures if Britain expelled Russian diplomats.

Shortly after May's statement, the Russian embassy issued its response. It called the expulsion of Russian diplomats “totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted.”

In a statement it said: “On 14 of March Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he was informed that 23 diplomats were declared personae non gratae.

“We consider this hostile action as totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted. All the responsibility for the deterioration of the Russia-UK relationship lies with the current political leadership of Britain.”

READ MORE: Moscow not accepting groundless threats & ultimatums, has nothing to do with Skripal case – Kremlin

Russia has said it will not respond to the prime minister’s demand until it has a sample of the toxin and an internationally accepted procedure is followed in the investigation. The case must go through the proper channels of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), of which both Russia and the UK are members, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said. The OPCW rules allow London to send a formal inquiry to Moscow, with a 10-day window for a reply.

Russia has denied any involvement in the attempted murder of Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia in Salisbury. The two were found slumped on a bench in the town center on March 3, allegedly poisoned with a Soviet-engineered nerve agent called Novichok.

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