Britain has said it will expel 23 Russian diplomats – which she described as undeclared intelligence officers – in response to a nerve toxin attack on a Russian former double agent in southern England, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Wednesday, adding it was the biggest single expulsion in over 30 years.
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, 66, and his daughter Yulia, 33, were found unconscious on a bench in the city of Salisbury on March 4 and remain in hospital in critical condition. A police officer was also harmed and remains in a serious condition.
Britain demanded an explanation from Russian whether it was responsible for the use of the Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent on the Skripals or had lost control of stocks of the highly dangerous substance.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Their response demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events,” May said in a statement to parliament.
“They have treated the use of a military grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.
Sergei Skripal & daughter Yulia
“There is no alternative conclusion, other than that the Russian state was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter, and for threatening the lives of other British citizens in Salisbury, including Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey.
“This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”
“We will freeze Russian state assets wherever we have the evidence that they may be used to threaten the life or property of UK nationals or residents”.
She also said new legislative proposals would be urgently developed to counter any threat from a hostile state.
“This will include the addition of a targeted power to detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the UK border,” May said.
British authorities would make use of existing powers to enhance efforts to monitor and track the intentions of those traveling to the UK who could be engaged in activities that represented a security threat.
“We will increase checks on private flights, customs and freight,” she said