Russia expelled 23 British diplomats on Saturday in a carefully calibrated retaliatory move against London, which has accused the Kremlin of orchestrating a nerve toxin attack on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in southern England.
Russia said it would also withdraw permission for Britain to open a general consulate in St Petersburg and would close the British Council, an international organization for cultural relations and educational opportunities, in Russia.
The announcement comes three days after British Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to kick out 23 Russian diplomats allegedly operating as undeclared intelligence officers in Britain. The expulsions — the largest in three decades — “will fundamentally degrade Russian intelligence capabilities in the U.K. for years to come,” May said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Saturday morning that the 23 diplomatic representatives of the British Embassy in Moscow should leave Russia within a week.
On Saturday, during a speech delivered to the Conservative Party Spring Forum in London, May said the U.K. takes no issue with the Russian people but threats to the lives of British citizens would not be tolerated.
The UK Foreign Office said in a statement it had “anticipated a response of this kind” and the National Security Council would meet early next week “to consider next steps”. It insisted there was “no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable” but said it was not in the UK’s national interest “to break off all dialogue between our countries”.
A Russian response to the British measures had been expected for several days and when it came, it went further than expected.The ministry also warned that Russia could take further measures if Britain takes any more “unfriendly actions” against the country.
“We are profoundly disappointed at this development,” said a spokesperson for the British Council, adding that cultural relations and educational opportunities are “vital” when “political or diplomatic relations become difficult”.
Shortly before the announcement, British ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow, was summoned to the foreign ministry for talks, where he learned of the retaliation measures.