Russia will expel 23 British diplomats and shut down British Council as relations worsen over nerve agent attack

  • Russia's foreign ministry says it is expelling 23 British diplomats, in retaliation for Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to kick out 23 Russians, over an attack involving a military-grade nerve agent on English soil.
  • It will also shut the British Council in Russia.
  • It summoned Britain's ambassador to the country, Laurie Bristow, for a meeting on Saturday, Russian news agencies reported.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with his election representatives at Moscows Gostiny Dvor; Putin is running for re-election in the 2018 Russian presidential election scheduled for March 18, 2018.
Mikhail Metzel | TASS | Getty Images
Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with his election representatives at Moscows Gostiny Dvor; Putin is running for re-election in the 2018 Russian presidential election scheduled for March 18, 2018.

Russia has decided to expel 23 British diplomats who must leave Moscow within a week, its foreign ministry said on Saturday, after a meeting with Britain's ambassador to Russia, Laurie Bristow.

In retaliation for British Prime Minister Theresa May's decision to kick out 23 Russians, Moscow has also decided to close the British Council in Russia and to withdraw permission for Britain to open a general consulate in St Petersburg, the ministry said in a statement.

It added that it has the right to take other "responsive measures", if there are further hostile steps from London.

After the first known offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War Two, Britain has pointed the finger at Russia's president Vladimir Putin, and on Thursday May gave the 23 Russians — who she said were spies working under diplomatic cover at the embassy in London — a week to leave.

Moscow has denied any involvement in the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter.

It has cast Britain as a post-colonial power unsettled by its impending exit from the European Union, and even suggested London fabricated the attack to whip up anti-Russian hysteria.