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Photo: Jack Taylor / Getty Images

British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and other measures in response to the nerve agent attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil. She told the House of Commons today that "there is no alternative conclusion" other than Russia's culpability for the attack.

Why it matters: May's statement marks a huge escalation in tensions between the U.K. and Russia — especially as she chose to mention Russian President Vladimir Putin by name. She had notably harsh language for Russia's handling of the situation, saying that the Kremlin had "demonstrated complete disdain" for the attack and that Russia " treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with contempt, sarcasm, and defiance."

Many of us looked at a post-Soviet Russia with hope. We wanted a better relationship, and it is tragic that President Putin has chosen to act in this way.
— Prime Minister Theresa May
A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

What the U.K. will do now, per May's statement:

  • Expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers, the single biggest expulsion in 30 years.
  • Suspend all high-level bilateral contacts, including planned visits by royals and government ministers to this summer's World Cup in Russia.
  • Freeze Russian state assets where used to threaten property of U.K. nationals or residents.
  • Enhance powers to monitor and track those who could be engaged in activity that threatens U.K. security, including increased checks on private flights, cargo, and freight.
  • Develop proposals for new legislative powers against hostile state activity, including the ability detain those suspected of hostile state activity at the U.K. border, a power currently available only against terrorism suspects.
  • Table a government amendment to strengthen powers to impose sanctions.

Russia's embassy in the U.K. issued a caustic response to May's statement:

"On 14 of March Russian Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where he was informed that 23 diplomats were declared personae non gratae.
We consider this hostile action as totally unacceptable, unjustified and shortsighted.
All the responsibility for the deterioration of the Russia-UK relationship lies with the current political leadership of Britain."

What comes next: Both the U.K. — over the 2006 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko — and the U.S. —over 2016 election meddling — have expelled Russian diplomats in the recent past. Putin has responded with tit-for-tat counter-measures.

  • The U.K. has called an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council this afternoon to present their findings on the Skripal attack.
Who is Sergei Skripal?

A former intelligence officer in the GRU, Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, Skripal was convicted in 2006 of betraying the identities of Russian intelligence agents working undercover in Europe to MI6, Britain’s foreign military intelligence service. He is thought to have blown the cover of 300 Russian agents, per the FT.

  • The incident: Skripal had been living in the U.K. since being freed in a U.S.-Russia prisoner swap in 2010. He and his daughter were both found unconscious on a bench in downtown Salisbury. They remain in critical condition after being exposed to Novichok, a military-grade Russian-manufactured nerve agent.

Go deeper

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Florida businessman Lev Parnas was convicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to make foreign contributions to political campaigns, according to multiple outlets.

Why it matters: Prosecutors said Parnas, then an associate of former President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, funneled over $150,000 from a Russian businessman into U.S. campaigns as part of an effort to land licenses in the U.S.'s legal cannabis industry.

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

Officials warn 5 key tech sectors will determine whether China overtakes U.S.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. intelligence officials responsible for protecting advanced technologies have narrowed their focus to five key sectors: artificial intelligence, quantum computing, biotechnology, semiconductors and autonomous systems.

Why it matters: China and Russia are employing a variety of legal and illegal methods to undermine and overtake U.S. dominance in these critical industries, officials warned in a new paper. Their success will determine "whether America remains the world’s leading superpower or is eclipsed by strategic competitors."