May 'anticipated' Russian retaliation in ex-spy poisoning row

Donald Trump Vladimir Putin

Russia has expelled 23 British diplomats in a carefully calibrated retaliatory move against London, which has accused the Kremlin of orchestrating a nerve toxin attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in southern England.

"Twenty three British diplomats have been declared persona non-grata and will be expelled within a week", Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement after the British Ambassador to Moscow Laurie Bristow was summoned.

"President Macron said that France completely shares the U.K.'s assessment that there is no plausible explanation other than that Russian Federation was responsible for the attack and he once again expressed his full support for the U.K.as a close and strong ally", the statement said.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the nerve agent used in the attack could have been planted in Yulia Skripal's suitcase during a recent trip to Moscow.

The representatives of Russia's Foreign Ministry added that the British Council is not anymore functioning in Russian Federation.

The claim was made Saturday by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who told Russia-24 television that the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Britain or Sweden were likely sources of the nerve agent.

The heads of those nations -including President Trump- signed the joint declaration; slamming Russian President Vladimir Putin for using a deadly "nerve agent" to assassinate a former Russian spy on British soil and endangering the lives of hundreds.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow might be willing to assist with the investigation but expresses resentment at suggestions the Kremlin was behind the attack.

Meanwhile, counter-terrorism police renewed their appeal for sightings of Mr Skripal's burgundy BMW 320D saloon auto, registration HD09 WAO, in Salisbury on the morning of Sunday, March 4. The father and daughter remain in hospital in a serious condition.

The poisoning of the pair has put further strain on UK-Russia relations that have been fractious ever since the assassination of another former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, in 2006. Critics say United Kingdom authorities have been slow to investigate the origins of the wealth invested in London's financial district and property market. It says 400 witnesses have already given statements.

This latest Russian provocation against a close US partner comes at a particularly delicate moment for the Trump administration, with both allies and adversaries closely watching USA foreign policy after Tillerson's ouster.

The Foreign Secretary's comments were rebuked by Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who said: "Any reference or mentioning of our president is nothing else but shocking and unpardonable diplomatic misconduct".

Writing in the Sun on Sunday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described the closures as "futile" and said they would "only punish ordinary Russians" by depriving them of opportunities to learn English and apply for visas to visit Britain.

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