0518/Poisoning

Moscow to expel 23 British diplomats after row over Russian involvement in spy poisoning

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured at a meeting in St Petersburg on FridayRussia is to expel 23 British diplomats, close the British Council in Russia and withdraw permission for Britain to open general consulate in St Petersburg. The response follows the expulsion of 23 Russian ambassadors earlier this week after the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. Russia failed to respond to a deadline set by Theresa May for Moscow to explain whether it was behind the attack. The British ambassador to Russia Laurie Bristow was summoned for talks with the Russian Foreign Ministry on Saturday morning. He was told 23 British diplomats must leave Moscow within a week. On Friday, Scotland Yard launched a murder investigation after announcing that a Russian businessman who was found dead at his south London home, had been strangled, sparking fears of a second Moscow sponsored attack on British soil. Nikolai Glushkov, 68, who was a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, was granted asylum in the UK after fleeing Russia in 2006. A former right-hand man of deceased oligarch, Boris Berezovsky, his death came just over a week after Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, were poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury. He was found dead on Monday by his daughter after failing to turn up to a hearing in the commercial courts in London. News of this latest murder investigation will further stoke fears that critics or enemies of Russia and its leader, are no longer safe on British soil. It came as Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, escalated the war of Moscow Kremlinwords with Russia, when he accused Vladimir Putin of personally ordering the nerve agent attack. He said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that the Russian President was behind the attempted murder, a claim described as “unpar-donable” by Mr Putin’s spokesman. Downing Street said the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been invited to come to the UK to take a sample of the nerve agent used in Salisbury and the process is expected to begin “imminently”. A spokesman said the Prime Minister had been “kept informed” of developments but stressed that Mr Glushkov’s death was a police matter and that no direct link had been made with the Salisbury poisoning case. But Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, said the murder of Mr Glushkov appeared to “fit into a pattern” of violent deaths of enemies of Mr Putin. He said: “If there is a link between Mr Glushkov’s death and the Kremlin it will be further proof that we are dealing with essentially a rogue state which refuses to abide by international rules and has violated UN laws. “What has been going on is a deliberate attempt to settle Russian scores in the UK.” The former boss of the state airline, Aeroflot, Mr Glushkov had told friends he feared he was on a Kremlin hit-list. A former bodyguard, who worked for Sergei Skripal with his daughter YuliaMr Berezovsky, and knew Mr Glushkov well, said his death had all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored assassi-nation. The France based security expert, who asked to be identified only by his initials, RG, said: “I’m not at all surprised [that a murder investigation has been opened]. “You can easily choke someone in 10 seconds so that they fall into a comatose state and you can then continue strangling them without leaving any other marks on the body. It’s a technique they [the Russians] know well.” Mr Berezovsky was found hanged in the bathroom of his Surrey home in 2013, with the cause of death being put down to suicide. But suspicion has always surrounded the circumstances of his death, with many believing he was one of a number of Putin critics who were deliberately silenced.

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