Tuesday, 19 March, 2019

Nerve agent row: Russian Federation expels 23 British diplomats amid increasing tensions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gestures during a meeting with South Korean head of National Security Chung Eui-yong at the Russian foreign ministry in Moscow Russia. Lavrov says Russia will kick Nerve agent row: Russian Federation expels 23 British diplomats amid increasing tensions
Patty Aguilar | 17 March, 2018, 22:48

Moscow also made a decision to close the British Council in Russian Federation and to withdraw permission for Britain to open a general consulate in St Petersburg.

The Russian statement said the government could take further measures if Britain takes any more "unfriendly" moves toward Russia.

The announcement followed on the heels of Britain's order this week for 23 Russian diplomats to leave the United Kingdom because Russia was not cooperating in the case of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, both found March 4 poisoned by a nerve agent that British officials say was developed in Russia.

Russia's Investigative Committee is opening a criminal investigation into the attack and said it was ready to cooperate with Britain. British Prime Minister Theresa May has also cut off high-level contacts with Russian Federation and has been trying to build support among the U.K.'s allies for potential fresh sanctions to punish Russian Federation. The closure of the British Council's Moscow office will sever cultural ties, while that of the consulate-general in St Petersburg will end Britain's diplomatic presence in Russia's second city.

A Russian lawmaker is warning Britain against escalating the crisis over the poisoning of a former Russian spy.

"Due to the unregulated status of the British Council in Russian Federation, its activity is halted", it said. He did not offer evidence for that assertion.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said it is "overwhelmingly likely" that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off the nerve agent attack.

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. Russian Federation has asked to be allowed to examine the evidence and claims that so far it has not been allowed to do so.

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In a radio show this morning, the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs, Tom Tugendhat said, "It's hardly surprising that they've chose to retaliate by expelling 23 people".

"This is really absolutely symbolic and typical of a Russian Federation that has used lying and propaganda as a means of warfare and is now repeating its style", Conservative party Member of Parliament Tom Tugendhat said on BBC Radio 4.

"It's a great shame for the Russian people that they're closing the British Council which has done an bad lot to educate Russian people in the English language and to help them get jobs and opportunities around the world,"he told the BBC".

British police said there is no apparent link between the attack on Glushkov and the poisoning of the Skripals, but both have raised alarm in the West at a time when Russian Federation is increasingly assertive on the global stage and facing investigations over alleged interference in the Donald Trump's election as US president. They remain in critical condition.

Sergey Skripal worked as a spy for Britain's MI6 agency while serving in Russian military intelligence in the late 1990s.

UK-Russia relations have been fractious ever since the assassination of another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, in 2006. Nikolai Glushkov was found dead at his home this week. "There is to be no Russophobia as a result of what is happening", Johnson said on Friday.

Russian Federation has also opened criminal investigations into "the murder" of Mr Glushkov, and the "attempted murder" of Ms Skripal. Glushkov was granted political asylum in London after he was released from prison in Russian Federation in 2004, where he had been jailed over fraud charges.

British police are not linking his case with the Salisbury attack. Detectives are keeping an "open mind" about the death, police said.

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