US and EU expel scores of Russian diplomats over Skripal attack

The US and EU have expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in response to the nerve agent attack in the UK.

The US has ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials who Washington says are spies, including a dozen based at the United Nations.

EU members Germany, France and Poland are each to expel four Russian diplomats with intelligence agency backgrounds. Lithuania and the Czech Republic said they would expel three with Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands expelling two each.

Ukraine, which is not an EU member, is to expel 13 Russian diplomats and Canada four.

The UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats in the wake of the poisoning, and Russia responded by ejecting the same number of British diplomats.

Russia promised it would take reciprocal action against Washington. It said the UK had not presented a single fact proving that Moscow was behind the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

The Russian consulate in Seattle is also being closed as part of the US’s package of punitive measures. A senior US official said that the consulate closure and the expulsions would be carried out “in solidarity with our closest allies” in reaction to what he said was “a reckless attempt by the [Russian] government to murder a British citizen and his daughter with a military grade nerve agent”.

A second official said the measures were also intended as a response to a “steady drumbeat of destabilising and aggressive actions” by Moscow against the US and its allies.

Georgi Markov

In one of the most chilling episodes of the cold war, the Bulgarian dissident was poisoned with a specially adapted umbrella on Waterloo Bridge. As he waited for a bus, Markov felt a sharp prick in his leg. The opposition activist, who was an irritant to the communist government of Bulgaria, died three days later. A deadly pellet containing ricin was found in his skin. His unknown assassin is thought to have been from the secret services in Bulgaria.

Alexander Litvinenko

The fatal poisoning of the former FSB officer sparked an international incident. Litvinenko fell ill after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium. He met his killers in a bar of the Millennium hotel in Mayfair. The pair were Andrei Lugovoi – a former KGB officer turned businessman, who is now a deputy in Russia’s state Duma – and Dmitry Kovtun, a childhood friend of Lugovoi’s from a Soviet military family. Putin denied all involvement and refused to extradite either of the killers.

German Gorbuntsov

The exiled Russian banker survived an attempt on his life as he got out of a cab in east London. He was shot four times with a silenced pistol. He had been involved in a bitter dispute with two former business partners.

Alexander Perepilichnyy

The businessman collapsed while running near his home in Surrey. Traces of a chemical that can be found in the poisonous plant gelsemium were later found in his stomach. Before his death, Perepilichnyy was helping a specialist investment firm uncover a $230m Russian money-laundering operation, a pre-inquest hearing was told. Hermitage Capital Management claimed that Perepilichnyy could have been deliberately killed for helping it uncover the scam involving Russian officials. He may have eaten a popular Russian dish containing the herb sorrel on the day of his death, which could have been poisoned.

Boris Berezovsky

The exiled billionaire was found hanged in an apparent suicide after he had spent more than decade waging a high-profile media battle against his one-time protege Putin. A coroner recorded an open verdict after hearing conflicting expert evidence about the way he died. A pathologist who conducted a postmortem examination on the businessman’s body said he could not rule out murder.

Scot Young

An associate of Berezovsky whom he helped to launder money, he was found impaled on railings after he fell from a fourth-floor flat in central London. A coroner ruled that there was insufficient evidence of suicide. But Young, who was sent to prison in January 2013 for repeatedly refusing to reveal his finances during a divorce row, told his partner he was going to jump out of the window moments before he was found.

The officials being expelled from the US include 48 in the Russian embassy in Washington and 12 at the Russian mission at the UN, who the US say are spies, engaged in “aggressive collection here in the US”.

US officials said that the spies at the UN were abusing their residence privileges under the UN headquarters agreement. They added that there were over 100 Russian spies in the US and the expulsions would significantly reduce Russian espionage capabilities in the country. The expelled Russians have seven days to leave the country.

“With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences,” the White House said in a written statement. “The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behaviour.”

However, Donald Trump did not comment himself on Twitter, his usual form of expression on issues he feels strongly about. At the time officials were briefing reporters about the US measures, the president put out a tweet saying: “So much Fake News. Never been more voluminous or more inaccurate. But through it all, our country is doing great!”

It was not clear what reports Trump was responding to, but the tweet came at a time when a porn star, Stormy Daniels, was dominating national headlines with her latest interview about an affair she said she had with Trump, and the pressure she came under to cover up the relationship.

While other members of his administration have spoken out strongly against Russia, in particular for its interference in the 2016 US election, Trump has avoided saying or tweeting anything critical of the Kremlin, and congratulated Putin on winning an election generally seen as unfree and unfair.

White House officials had initially been reluctant to attribute direct blame to Moscow, in the days following the Skripal attack, but a senior administration official said on Monday that the nature of the Russian response to UK allegations held led to the definitive US conclusion that the Kremlin was responsible.

“Russia has had nearly a month to respond but instead of explaining has engaged in the usual obfuscation we have seen in the past,” a US official said, noting that Moscow had put out a series of conflicting stories and attempted to put the blame on others, including the US.

EU heads of state concluded last week that it was highly likely the Russian state was responsible for the attack. The EU is also looking at coordinated steps to rein back Russian hybrid warfare.

The European Council president, Donald Tusk, said 14 EU states had expelled Russian diplomats in response to the attack, adding that “additional measures including further expulsions are not excluded in coming days, weeks.”

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was expected to win the support of her newly formed coalition government to take practical action, even though over the weekend many prominent German politicians called for a rapprochement with Russia, including a suggestion that Putin be invited back to summits of the G7. Russia was expelled from the premier assembly of western economies following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, but still attends the G20.

The divisions within the EU were highlighted by a split at the top of the EU bureaucracy. Tusk said he was in no mood to congratulate Putin on his re-election as Russian president, but the commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, sent Putin a note of strong congratulations.

The EU called its ambassador to Moscow for consultations over the weekend.

The UK defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, visiting British troops in Estonia, said the backing for Britain was in “itself a defeat for President Putin”.

Theresa May will report back to MPs on Monday on her efforts to garner international support for an uncompromising approach to Russia. On Wednesday, the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee will hold a special evidence session designed to consider what further steps the government could take to restrict the movement of Putin-linked Russian money in London.

In an attempt to stave off diplomatic expulsions in the US, the Russian embassy in Washington urged the Americans to rein in Downing Street. “In these days, a younger partner needs inspiration and help from over the ocean based on wise restraint,” the embassy said.

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