Mar 14, 2018

U.K. expels Russian diplomats over ex-spy attack

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

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

U.S. coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios. This graphic includes "probable deaths" that New York City began reporting on April 14.

More than 62,300 U.S. health care workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and at least 291 have died from the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Tuesday. COVID-19 had infected about 9,300 health professionals when the CDC gave its last update on April 17.

By the numbers: More than 98,900 people have died from COVID-19 and over 1.6 million have tested positive in the U.S. Over 384,900 Americans have recovered and more than 14.9 million tests have been conducted.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:00 p.m. ET: 5,589,626 — Total deaths: 350,453 — Total recoveries — 2,286,956Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:00 p.m. ET: 1,680,913 — Total deaths: 98,913 — Total recoveries: 384,902 — Total tested: 14,907,041Map.
  3. Federal response: DOJ investigates meatpacking industry over soaring beef pricesMike Pence's press secretary returns to work.
  4. Congress: House Republicans to sue Nancy Pelosi in effort to block proxy voting.
  5. Business: How the new workplace could leave parents behind.
  6. Tech: Twitter fact-checks Trump's tweets about mail-in voting for first timeGoogle to open offices July 6 for 10% of workers.
  7. Public health: Coronavirus antibodies could give "short-term immunity," CDC says, but more data is neededCDC releases guidance on when you can be around others after contracting the virus.
  8. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Updated 48 mins ago - Politics & Policy

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

There are no COVID-19 patients in hospital in New Zealand, which reported just 21 active cases after days of zero new infections. A top NZ health official said Tuesday he's "confident we have broken the chain of domestic transmission."

By the numbers: Almost 5.5 million people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Tuesday, and more than 2.2 million have recovered. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world (over 1.6 million from 14.9 million tests).