Theresa May prepares to expel Russian diplomats and call for UN Security Council meeting

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Wednesday 14 March 2018 13:09 GMT
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Theresa May: 'highly likely' Russia was responsible for poisoning of Sergei Skripal

Britain has called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Salisbury attack, as Theresa May prepares to expel Russian diplomats from the UK.

The Foreign Office called the meeting on Wednesday hours before the the Prime Minister was to give a statement in the House of Commons setting out retaliatory action against Vladimir Putin and his allies.

The Independent reported earlier this week that ministers had already discussed expelling diplomats in response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the mediaeval cathedral city just over a week ago, while the Russian Ambassador was called to the Foreign Office this morning..

The action is being taken after the Russian Foreign Minister said his country would not cooperate with the British investigation into the incident on 4 March, unless UK investigators handed over a sample of the Russian-made nerve agent they have identified.

The Foreign Office made the announcement over Twitter, but it had been expected as the UK attempts to isolate Moscow among the international community.

Ms May has won the backing of German, French, US and other European leaders as she attempts to push for consequences for Mr Putin, after blaming him for being behind the attack in Salisbury which also left dozens of civilians needing treatment.

Reports emerged on Wednesday morning that a large number of diplomats would be expelled as part of a broad package of measures to be taken by Ms May.

The Independent understands the ground has already been prepared for economic measures such as asset freezes and seizures, alongside visa bans against Russian individuals.

A Government minister said on Tuesday that Ms May would seek an "economic war" against Mr Putin, targetting assets and money in the UK.

The minister said: “What happens will be an economic war, these will be economic measures.

“Russia’s economy is only half that of the UK, a lot of it concentrated in a few people’s hands. Well, we’ll do our bit to make it smaller if they want to carry on like this.

“That doesn’t give us any pleasure at all, but we need the nations of Europe to behave within the rule of law and not like gangsters. The message has to economic, political and diplomatic.”

On Monday Ms May delivered an ultimatum to Russia, that it would have to explain how Novichok, a Russian-made nerve agent came to be used in Salisbury.

She warned of “extensive measures” if a full account was not given by midnight on Tuesday, something Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov refused to do.

In a statement, the foreign ministry also said British threats to punish Moscow over the poisoning would not go unanswered, and described the allegations of Russian involvement as a provocation.

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Sergei Stepashin, Mr Putin’s predecessor as FSB director and Prime Minister, also called for British authorities to hand over evidence.

“We have the relevant agreements to investigate this together,” he told the Interfax news agency.

Mr Stepashin said British security services may have been complicit in the poisoning — and were using it to undermine Russia ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections: “It seems obvious to me that this might be the primitive work of English security services. Tell me who needs this traitor in Russia?”

There could be another reason apart from elections, he added: “The World Cup is about to take start and the English hate us for the fact the competition is taking place in our country.”

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