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Moscow plays the game and raises Britain one

The expulsion of 23 British diplomats, to be complete within one week is accompanied by the decision to close the British consulate in St Petersburg

British diplomats told to take a walk... out of Russia. Photo credit © Ekaterina Chesnokova / Sputnik

Earler this week the British Prime Minister Theresa May fired a shot at the Russian Federation, convicting Russia’s government, especially its president Vladimir Putin of culpability in the assassination attempt of a former Soviet spy and his daughter who was in Britain to visit her father. Sergey and Yulia Skripal remain hospitalized after suffering an attack by a nerve agent determined by British authorities to be Novichok, an agent developed in the Soviet Union. In the wake of this conviction, which came without any sort of substantive proof, she expelled 23 Russian diplomats with a rather scurrilous remark that these personnel were also spies.

On Saturday March 17, the Russian response was announced. Twenty-three British diplomats have also been expelled from the Russian Federation. They are to be gone within one week.

However, Russia went a bit farther.

On March 17, British Ambassador to Moscow Laurie Bristow was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry where he was handed a note saying that in response to provocative actions of the British side and evidence-free accusations against the Russian Federation over the incident in the city of Salisbury on March 4 this year, the Russian side has taken the following retaliatory measures:

Twenty three diplomats of the British Embassy in Moscow have been declared personae non gratae and will be expelled within a week’s time.

Taking into account the disparity in the number of consulates of the two countries, Russia withdraws permission to open the British Consulate General in St. Petersburg. Related procedures will be carried out in accordance with international law. Due to the unregulated status of the British Council in the Russian Federation it will be dissolved… Due to the unregulated status of the British Council in the Russian Federation, its activities are terminated,” the statement said

“The British side has been warned that if more unfriendly actions against Russia follow, the Russian side reserves the right of taking other retaliation measures,” the ministry added.

This marks the latest move in the biggest diplomatic row between the two countries in a very long time. The termination of the British Council is actually fairly significant, as the Council provides educational activities such as English Language training and support in the fields of arts and culture.  It opened its first office in Moscow in 1992, and then spread throughout the country in later years. However, since January 1st, 2008, all regional offices except the Moscow office were closed under the charge of “not complying with Russian legislation.” Now, the Moscow office is to be closed as well.

Moscow has repeatedly offered its full cooperation in investigating the Skripal ncident, which London claims involved a Soviet-era nerve agent called Novichok. Both nations are members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which means that London is legally obliged to include Moscow in the investigation. A very peculiar issue in this regard is Great Britain’s refusal to do so.

 

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