Russian Federation expels 23 United Kingdom diplomats as fallout over nerve agent attack escalates

Russia announced Saturday it will expel 23 British diplomats and close the British consulate in St. Petersburg as part of its response to London's decision to expel Russian diplomats in an escalating row over the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in Britain earlier this month.

The announcement came after the British ambassador, Laurie Bristow, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow on Saturday morning.

Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, spoke Saturday after Russia ordered 23 British diplomats leave the country and that the British Council in Russia be closed.

The statement said the government could take further measures if Britain takes any more "unfriendly" moves toward Russian Federation.

Britain this week ordered 23 Russian diplomats to leave the country, saying that Russia was not cooperating in the case of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, both found March 4 poisoned by a nerve agent that British officials say was developed in Russia.

It said 23 diplomatic staff at the United Kingdom embassy in Moscow would be "declared persona non-grata" and expelled within a week, Sputnik news agency reported. Britain had only pledged to expel the Russian diplomats after Moscow had failed to explain how the nerve toxin had got to Britain, he said.

"We will always do what is necessary to defend ourselves", he said. After several days of investigation, British authorities determined that they were poisoned with a nerve agent known as Novichok, which is believed to be unique to Russian Federation.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry cast Russian Federation as the aggrieved party. "It's a great shame for the Russian people that they're closing the British Council, which has done an terrible lot to educate Russian people in English language and help them get jobs and opportunities around the world".

Skripal, who is a retired Russian military intelligence officer, was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006 for spying for Britain. There's no evidence at this stage that his death and the attack on the Skripals are linked, it said. The pair remain critically ill in the hospital.

Russian investigators said on Friday they had opened a criminal investigation into the attempted murder of Yulia Skripal and offered to cooperate with British authorities.

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