Theresa May praises allies as action against Russia continues

One of Vladimir Putin's helicopters. Picture: AFP/Getty
One of Vladimir Putin's helicopters. Picture: AFP/Getty
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Western allies have targeted Russia with the biggest co-ordinated expulsion of diplomats in history in a joint response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Western allies have targeted Russia with the biggest co-ordinated expulsion of diplomats in history in a joint response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack.

Theresa May hailed the action as a message to Vladimir Putin’s government that the west would “not tolerate Russia’s continued attempts to flout international law and undermine our values”.

In total, 18 countries announced they are expelling a total of more than 100 Russian intelligence officers. Those participating include the United States, Canada and Ukraine as well as 15 EU member states.

The Russian foreign ministry said: “This provocative gesture of notorious solidarity with London, made by countries that preferred to follow in London’s footsteps without bothering to look into other circumstances of the incident, merely continues the policy of escalating the confrontation”.

Updating MPs in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister said: “President Putin’s regime is carrying out acts of aggression against our shared values and interests within our continent and beyond.

READ MORE: EU Ambassador recalled over Salisbury attack

“As a sovereign European democracy, the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU and with Nato to face down these threats together.”

She added: “This is the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in history.

“Together we have sent a message that we Russia’s continued attempts to flout international law and undermine our values.”

Warning of an “unacceptably high” number of Russian spies in the US, the Trump administration said 60 diplomats would be expelled - all understood to be Russian intelligence agents working under diplomatic cover.

The group includes a dozen posted to Russia’s mission to the United Nations who were engaged in “aggressive collection” of intelligence on American soil, officials said. A Russian consulate in Seattle has also been ordered to close.

READ MORE: Russia expels British diplomats

The expulsions come after Britain expelled 23 undeclared intelligence officers - prompting the tit-for-tat expulsion by the Russians of the same number of UK diplomats.

More EU member states are likely to follow, with Germany, Poland and France each announcing they would remove four, the Czech Republic three and Italy two. Ukraine, a non-EU country with its own conflicts with Moscow, is expelling 13 Russians, President Petro Poroshenko said. All three Baltic states said they would kick diplomats out. Canada, too, said it was taking action, kicking out four and denying three who have applied to enter the country.

Almost all of the countries said publicly that the Russian diplomats they were expelling were actually spies.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “We welcome today’s actions by our allies, which clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law.”

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, visiting Estonia, also welcomed the expulsions.

“I think that is the very best response that we can have because their intention, their aim, is to divide and what we are seeing is the world uniting behind the British stance,” he said. “That in itself is a great victory and that sends an exceptionally powerful message to the Kremlin and President Putin.”

Danish prime minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen tweeted: “Russia has gone too far. An assassination attempt in a European city with a Russian nerve agent is completely unacceptable.”

A German foreign ministry statement said the expulsions were “a strong signal of solidarity with Great Britain and signals the resolve of the Germany government not to leave attacks against our closest partners and allies unanswered”.

Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, remain in a critical condition after they were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok in Salisbury on 4 March.

The move is one of the most significant actions Donald Trump’s administration has taken to date to punish Moscow and Russian president Vladimir Putin, especially over its intelligence activities.

The last time they spoke, less than a week ago, Mr Trump congratulated Mr Putin for his re-election but did not raise the March 4 spy poisoning. “This is the largest expulsion of Russian intelligence officers in United States history,” said US ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman.

The expulsions led to a chorus of condemnation for the Kremlin - for the poisoning, Russian spying and other Western grievances. Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz called it “the right response to the unfriendly, aggressive actions of Russia”.

In the Czech Republic, where Russian officials have claimed the poison used in Salisbury may have originated, Prime Minister Andrej Babis dismissed that allegation as “an utter lie”.

Russia’s embassy in Washington responded to the decisions on Twitter by hinting at retaliation, asking its followers to vote on which US consulate should be closed.

US ambassador Nikki Haley, Mr Trump’s envoy to the UN, said: “The United States and many of our friends are sending a clear message that we will not stand for Russia’s misconduct.”