UK to expel 23 Russian diplomats following nerve attack on double agent

Theresa May says UK will also freeze Russian state assets where needed

Britain will expel 23 Russian diplomats in response to a nerve agent attack on a Russian former double agent in southern England, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday, adding it was the biggest single expulsion in over 30 years.

May told parliament Britain would also freeze Russian state assets wherever there was evidence of a threat and downgrade its attendance at the soccer World Cup this summer.

Former spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury on March 4 and remain in hospital in a critical condition.

May has said the pair were attacked with Novichok, a Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent. She had asked Moscow to explain whether it was responsible for the attack or had lost control of stocks of the highly dangerous substance.

Russia has denied any involvement, and May told parliament Moscow had provided no credible explanation for the attack.

“There is no alternative conclusion, other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury,” she said.

READ: Russia says it will not take UK sanctions lying down

“This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”

May said the expulsion of the 23 diplomats, identified as undeclared intelligence officers, was the biggest single expulsion for over 30 years and would degrade Russian intelligence capabilities in Britain for years to come.

"We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents," May said.

She said no ministers or members of the royal family would attend the World Cup in Russia.

Russia said Britain should expect retaliation for its actions.


Meanwhile, in a statement, the Maltese Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed solidarity with the United Kingdom following the 'unacceptable use of a nerve agent' in Salisbury.

"In this regard, the ministry supports, in the strongest possible terms, the commitment by the United Kingdom to ensure a full investigation and bring those responsible to justice," it said. 

"Furthermore, the ministry reiterates that the use of chemical weapons, including any toxic chemicals as weapons, anywhere and under any other circumstances, is condemnable, in line with the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, in force since April 1997."


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