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United Kingdom expels 23 Russian diplomats over attempted assassination of former spy

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves Number 10 Downing Street on Wednesday in London. May announced measures against Moscow after it failed to meet a deadline to explain how a Russian nerve agent was used in Salisbury, England, against former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Wednesday that the United Kingdom would be expelling 23 Russian diplomats, cutting off top-level ties with Russia, and refusing to send any ministers or royals to the World Cup, which takes place in Russia this year.

The action, she said, is in response to the Russian Embassy’s “sarcasm, contempt, and defiance” after May demanded that the Russians explain how their tailor-made nerve agent ended up poisoning a former double agent on British soil.

“Mr. Speaker, it was right to offer Russia the opportunity to provide an explanation. But their response has demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May told Parliament on Wednesday. “They have provided no credible explanation that could suggest they lost control of their nerve agent.”

May said that instead of explaining how the nerve agent came to be used on British soil, “they have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.”

NATO released a statement backing up the U.K., expressing “deep concern at the first offensive use of a nerve agent on alliance territory since NATO’s foundation.”

The alliance, which was founded over fears of Russian expansion after World War II, added, “Allies expressed solidarity with the U.K., offered their support in the conduct of the ongoing investigation, and called on Russia to address the U.K.’s questions including providing full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”

President Donald Trump and the European Union have also expressed their support for the U.K. as it deals with this situation.

In her speech to Parliament, May said that she viewed the response of the Russians to be equivalent to an admission of guilt:

So Mr. Speaker, 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, including Detective Sgt. Nick Bailey. This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.

Detective Sgt. Nick Bailey was exposed to the nerve agent when he arrived at the scene. He was rushed to the hospital, where he is still being treated.

May called for the expulsion of “23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers.” She noted that this would be the biggest expulsion of Russian diplomats in 30 years.

“Through these expulsions we will fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capability in the UK for years to come," she said. "And if they seek to rebuild it, we will prevent them from doing so.”

On Monday, May revealed that British investigators had determined that former Russian defector Col. Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, had been poisoned by a nerve agent named Novichok. Novichok had been developed by the Russian government in the 1970s and 1980s.

May explained that there were only two ways that this attack with a Russian-made nerve agent could have taken place: “Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent, and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

She then said that she had asked the foreign secretary to summon the Russian ambassador “and asked him to explain which of these two possibilities it is.”

The Russian embassy responded with a scathing statement calling May’s speech “a clear provocation” and “yet another crooked attempt by the U.K. authorities to discredit Russia.” The embassy also tweeted out the statement with a series of graphics including the word “PROVOCATION” in red on a black background, and the words “FAKE NEWS” in a circle with a slash through it.

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