By Stefan J. Bos
British Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers that her government decided to expel dozens of Russian diplomats after Moscow ignored a midnight deadline to explain how a nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union was used against former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
Both remain in critical condition in a hospital in Salisbury, in southwestern England, where the attack took place.
Prime Minister May recalled that Britain also expelled some Russian diplomats after former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, a Kremlin Critic, was killed by radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006. "The House will recall that, following the murder of Mr. Litvinenko, the UK expelled four diplomats. Under the Vienna convention, the United Kingdom will now expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers. They have just one week to leave," she said.
"This will be the single biggest expulsion for over 30 years, and it reflects the fact that this is not the first time that the Russian state has acted against our country," May added.
She also announced a range of economic and diplomatic measures, including the suspension of high-level bilateral contacts with Russia.
Britain is canceling an invitation for Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to visit the country and May said British ministers and
royals will not attend the soccer World Cup in Russia this summer.
Prime Minister May explained that these measures are necessary to react to what she said was the "unlawful use of force" by the Russian state against Britain. [Russia] "has treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt, and defiance," she complained.
"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," May said.
The European Union and the NATO military alliance have both made clear that they are backing Britain over the poisoning scandal and
have promised to help investigate the attack.
But Russia's ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, called Britain's actions "absolutely unacceptable" and "a provocation."
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said in separate remarks that Britain had so far only offered "baseless accusations which are not backed up by any evidence."
These tensions come while British counterterrorism police have taken charge of the investigation into the unexplained death in London of a Russian businessman linked to a prominent Kremlin foe.
The death of Nikolai Glushkov, confirmed by his lawyer in Russia, came a week after former spy Skripal was left critically ill from the nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury.