Sergei Skripal attack: Why did British PM Theresa May order expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats?

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Published: March 15, 2018 12:26:11 PM

Sergei Skripal attack: British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday ordered the immediate expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats over a chemical attack on a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England. Sergei was a part of the Russian army's intelligence wing.

Sergei Skripal attack: British PM Theresa May orders to expel 23 Russian diplomatsSergei Skripal attack: British PM Theresa May orders to expel 23 Russian diplomats

Sergei Skripal attack: “The temperature of Russia-UK relations drops to minus-23, but we are not afraid of cold weather,” said a tongue-in-cheek tweet by the Russian embassy soon after British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday ordered the immediate expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats. The battle lines have been drawn between the two nations, which were once part of the Triple Entente and fought the two world wars together, over a chemical attack on a former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England.

Speaking in the House, Theresa May said that the response of the Russian government over the British demand seeking an explanation on the attack of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in British lands has ‘demonstrated complete disdain for the gravity of these events.’ She claimed that Russia hasn’t given any credible response to their queries and have rather treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe ‘with sarcasm, contempt and defiance’. She added that there could be only two possible conclusions – the first being, it was a Russian state operation and the second being, the Russian state has lost control over the Soviet-era nerve toxin Novichok.

The largest expulsion of Russian diplomats from Britain since Cold War-era retributions in the 1980s has sparked a global controversy. Global powers like the US and Germany have supported the British decision while France is awaiting proof before deciding if it would act in solidarity with London. The tussle may intensify further with Britain threatening to freeze the assets of Russian business leaders and officials, limit their access to London’s financial centre, and withdraw from the Soccer World Cup, which is expected to be hosted by Russia this year. Meanwhile, the Russian Embassy had earlier said that any threat to take punitive measures against Russia will meet with a response.

What’s the matter?

On March 4, Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury, Southwest England. A probe into the incident revealed that the spy and his daughter were poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve toxin Novichok, which is a nerve agent developed by the Soviet military. Since no other country has any access to the chemical, Russia became a natural suspect in the case. British Prime Minister Theresa May reacted strongly on the incident and served an ultimatum on Russia on Tuesday seeking an explanation by the end of the day.

However, Russia denied all allegations with the Russian embassy in London saying, “Moscow will not respond to London’s ultimatum until it receives samples of the chemical substance.”

Who is Sergei Skripal?

Sergei was a part of the Russian army’s intelligence wing until 1999 after which he was shifted to work for the Russian foreign ministry where he worked until 2003 before getting arrested by the Russians for handing over 20,000 pages of secret documents to London. Sergei was later released under a spy swap deal in 2010 after which he took refuge in Britain.

What is Novichok?

The Novichok agents were created under a clandestine program that continued despite international negotiations for a chemical weapons ban. It is a nerve toxin. Reportedly, Yulia Skripal was found unconscious and in vomit while Sergei Skripal had gone rigid and immobile due to the impact of the nerve toxin.

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