Russia expels more UK diplomats in spy poisoning row: Report

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Moscow, March 31 (IANS) Russia on Saturday told the UK that a total of more than 50 of its diplomats will have to leave, amid a deepening row over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil, according to a BBC report.

Moscow initially expelled 23 British diplomats in retaliation to the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats by London. But now the Russians were considering the expulsion of more British diplomats, the report said.

It said the UK and Russian diplomatic missions should be the same size in each country. The move means that at least another 27 UK officials will be sent home.

The report also said that some of the additional reduction could be made up by laying off local staff.

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The UK blames Russia for the nerve agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal on March 4 in Salisbury, southern England. But Moscow denies this.

On Friday, British Ambassador in Moscow, Laurie Bristow, was told that the UK had a month to cut its diplomatic mission in Russia to the same size as the Russian mission in Britain.

Some 150 Russian diplomats have been expelled by mainly Western countries as their governments have rallied behind Britain.

Russia initially hit back at the UK, but then announced 60 US expulsions. On Friday, it called in a string of foreign ambassadors with news that their own countries’ measures were being matched.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a warning over “a situation that is similar, to a large extent, to what we lived during the Cold War”.

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Meanwhile, in a separate development, Russia’s Transport Ministry demanded an official explanation over the alleged searching of an Aeroflot passenger plane by UK officials at London’s Heathrow airport on Friday.

“If there is no explanation, the Russian side will deem the actions towards our plane as illegal and also reserve the right to take similar action against British airlines,” it said in a statement.

The Russian Embassy in London accused the UK of improperly searching a Russian airplane and said it constituted a “provocation and a violation of international rules”.

“Today, we have witnessed another blatant provocation by the British authorities,” said a statement from the Embassy’s press office. “This kind of event is extraordinary.”

–IANS

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