WASHINGTON/LONDON — The White House, which initially avoided directly blaming Russia, issued a strongly worded statement, saying it shared Britain’s assessment of who was responsible. “We support the United Kingdom’s decision to expel Russian diplomats as a just response,” a White House statement said.
On Wednesday Britain decided to expel 23 Russian diplomats, the biggest such expulsion since the Cold War, over a chemical attack on a former Russian double agent in England that Prime Minister Theresa May has blamed on Moscow. Ms May pointed the finger firmly at Russian President Vladimir Putin overnight as she outlined retaliatory measures in Parliament.
Russia denies any involvement in the attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who have been in a critical condition in hospital since they were found unconscious on March 4 on a bench in the southern English city of Salisbury.
Ms May announced the potential freezing of Russian state assets that pose a security threat, new laws to counter hostile state activity and said British ministers and royals would not attend the football World Cup in Russia later this year.
She had given Moscow until midnight on Tuesday to explain how the Soviet-made Novichok nerve agent came to be deployed on the streets of Salisbury, saying either the Russian state was responsible or had lost control of a stock of the substance.
“They have treated the use of a military-grade nerve agent in Europe with sarcasm, contempt and defiance.”
The only possible conclusion was that the Russian state was behind the attempted murder of the Skripals and the harm that befell Nick Bailey, a police officer who is in a serious condition after being exposed to the nerve agent, Ms May said.
“This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom,” she said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow would swiftly retaliate against the British measures which had been undertaken for “short-sighted political ends”.
“The British Government has made a choice in favour of confrontation with Russia,” it said.
The White House, which initially avoided directly blaming Russia, issued a strongly worded statement, saying it shared Britain’s assessment of who was responsible. “We support the United Kingdom’s decision to expel Russian diplomats as a just response,” a White House statement said.