LONDON: Russia will soon expel British diplomats in retaliation for Britain’s decision to kick out 23 Russian envoys over a chemical attack on a former Russian double agent, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday.
In London, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson ratcheted up the rhetoric against Russia, accusing it of glorying in the attack on Sergei Skripal, which he described as a way of scaring anyone who stood up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Britain says Russia is responsible for the poisoning with a Soviet-era ‘Novichok’ nerve agent of Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33. They were found unconscious on March 4 in the city of Salisbury in southern England and remain critically ill in hospital.
Moscow denies any involvement. The Kremlin said the British position was irresponsible and not backed up by evidence. It said Britain would not have to wait long for Russia’s response.
Lavrov was quoted by the official news agency RIA as saying the accusations were unacceptable and that British diplomats would be expelled.
Earlier, May announced the potential freezing of Russian state assets that pose a security threat, new laws to counter hostile state activity and a downgrading of Britain’s attendance at the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.
“Their response demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said in her statement to parliament. “They have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.”
The only possible conclusion was that the Russian state was behind the attempted murder of the Skripals and the harm that befell Nick Bailey, a police officer who is in a serious condition after being exposed to the nerve agent, May said.
“This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” she said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow would swiftly retaliate against the British measures which had been undertaken for “short-sighted political ends”.
“The British government has made a choice in favour of confrontation with Russia,” it said.