Russia responds to US, UK actions

UK diplomats face tit-for-tat expulsions as row deepens

Left: Workers swabbing railings and bagging samples in Salisbury, where the Russian spy and his daughter were found unconscious. Above: When asked if Russia planned to expel British diplomats from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said:
Workers swabbing railings and bagging samples in Salisbury, where the Russian spy and his daughter were found unconscious. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Workers swabbing railings and bagging samples in Salisbury, where the Russian spy and his daughter were found unconscious. Above: When asked if Russia planned to expel British diplomats from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said:
Above: When asked if Russia planned to expel British diplomats from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: " We will, of course."PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Russia-UK relations at a post-Cold War low; Putin likely behind poisoning, says Johnson

ASTANA/LONDON • Russia is set to expel British diplomats in retaliation for Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to kick out 23 Russians as relations with London crash to a post-Cold War low due to an attack with military-grade nerve agent on English soil.

In the most direct British accusation against the Russian leader to date, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said yesterday it was "overwhelmingly likely" Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the poisoning of a Russian former spy in the attack in Britain.

After the first known use of such a weapon in Europe since World War II, Mrs May blamed Moscow and gave 23 Russians who she said were spies working under diplomatic cover at the London embassy a week to leave.

Russia has denied any involvement, cast Britain as a post-colonial power unsettled by Brexit and even suggested London fabricated the attack in an attempt to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.

Asked by a Reuters reporter in the Kazakh capital if Russia planned to expel British diplomats from Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov smiled and said: "We will, of course."

Britain, the United States, Germany and France jointly called on Russia on Thursday to explain the attack. US President Donald Trump said it looked as though the Russians were behind it.

Russia has refused Britain's demands to explain how Novichok, a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military, was used to strike down Mr Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, in the southern English city of Salisbury.

Mr Skripal, a former colonel in the Russian military intelligence agency GRU who betrayed Russian agents to British intelligence, and his daughter have been critically ill since March 4, when they were found unconscious on a bench.

A WARNING AGAINST RUSHING

To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security.

OPPOSITION LABOUR PARTY LEADER JEREMY CORBYN, who wrote in the Guardian newspaper. He struck a starkly different tone to that of the British government by warning against rushing into a new Cold War before full evidence of Moscow's culpability was proven.

Mr Putin, a former KGB spy who is poised to win a fourth term in an election tomorrow, has so far publicly said only that Britain should get to the bottom of what has happened.

In a sign of just how tense the relationship has become, British and Russian ministers used openly insulting language while the Russian ambassador said London was trying to divert attention from the difficulties it was having managing Britain's exit from the European Union.

 

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson sparked particular outrage in Moscow with his blunt comment on Thursday that "Russia should go away, it should shut up".

Russia's Defence Ministry said he was an "intellectual impotent" and Mr Lavrov said he probably lacked education. Mr Williamson studied social science at the University of Bradford.

In London, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn struck a starkly different tone to that of the British government by warning against rushing into a new Cold War before full evidence of Moscow's culpability was proven.

"To rush way ahead of the evidence being gathered by the police, in a fevered parliamentary atmosphere, serves neither justice nor our national security," the 68-year-old socialist leader wrote in the Guardian newspaper.

Mr Corbyn said Labour did not support Mr Putin and that Russia should be held to account if it was behind the attack.

"That does not mean we should resign ourselves to a 'new cold war' of escalating arms spending, proxy conflicts across the globe and a McCarthyite intolerance of dissent," he said.

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2018, with the headline 'Russia responds to US, UK actions UK diplomats face tit-for-tat expulsions as row deepens'. Print Edition | Subscribe