Russian Federation summons British envoy amid bitter row over ex-double agent poisoning

Henrietta Strickland
March 17, 2018

Police officers enter the forensic tent erected outside the home of Nikolai Glushkov in New Malden, on the outskirts of London, March 16, 2018.

Russian Federation is to expel 23 British diplomats following the row over the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

Russian Federation said Friday morning that it was expelling 23 British embassy staff from Moscow.

Russian Federation said it was also shutting down the activities of the British Council, which fosters cultural links between the two countries, and Britain's consulate-general in St Petersburg.

The decision comes after earlier in the day the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned UK Ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow.

Russian officials also warned that if Britain takes "further unfriendly actions" against Russia, "The Russian side reserves the right to take further retaliatory measures".

British prime minister Theresa May this week expelled 23 Russian diplomats and severed high-level contacts over the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

A former double agent, Skripal betrayed dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence before his arrest in Moscow in 2004.

The pair remain in the hospital and are critically ill.

Russian Federation has threatened to escalate its response should Britain respond with further sanctions, according to the ministry statement.

"It is our view that when political or diplomatic relations become hard, cultural relations and educational opportunities are vital to maintain ongoing dialogue between people and institutions", it said.

The UK Foreign Office said its priority was looking after its staff in Russian Federation and helping those who will return to Britain. Russia's Investigative Committee opened a criminal case Friday into Yulia Skripal's attempted murder.

The UK government claims that they were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, developed exclusively by Russian Federation.

London's Metropolitan police counter-terrorism command has said there is no suggestion that Glushkov's death is connected to the poisoning attack, but that they are investigating because "of associations Mr Glushkov is believed to have had". Officers also are trawling through some 4,000 hours of CCTV footage, he said.

In what seems like a odd coincidence, police now say Nikolai Glushkov, a Russian former businessman, was murdered last week at his home just outside London.

Russia has now denied that any program under the name Novichok ever existed, despite the evidence presented two decades ago by the Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who revealed its existence after becoming concerned it violated Russia's commitments to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Skripal's poisoning has prompted police in Britain to re-examine the cases of several Russians who have died or fallen ill on United Kingdom soil, amid criticism that the British government shut down the original investigations for political reasons without getting to the bottom of what happened. He was freed under a spy swap deal in 2010 and took refuge in Britain.

CNN's Matthew Chance reported from Moscow and Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported from London.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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