Russia has set in motion the process of expelling 23 British diplomats following London’s “provocative” measures over the poisoning of a double agent that has triggered an escalating war of words.
The affected personnel have been declared persona non grata and are required to exit Russia within the next one week.
A British consulate is also to be shut and the activities of the British Council in Russia to be halted in a tough series of retaliatory measures announced after summoning British ambassador Laurie Bristow.
The Russian response was announced on the eve of a presidential election which is expected to hand Vladimir Putin a fourth term in the Kremlin.
The crisis erupted after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were exposed to a Soviet-designed nerve agent on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury, leaving them in critical condition.
London has blamed Moscow and on Friday, even directly implicated Putin in the attack, prompting the Kremlin’s fury.
“Twenty three diplomatic staff at the British embassy in Moscow are declared persona non grata and to be expelled within a week,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
It said this was a response to Britain’s “provocative actions” and “baseless accusations over the incident in Salisbury on March 4”.
Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov was found dead in London on March 12, with police opening a murder inquiry after a post mortem found he died from “compression to the neck”
Russia also said that it was withdrawing permission for Britain to operate its consulate in the North western city of Saint Petersburg, citing a “disparity” in the number of diplomatic missions held by the two countries.
And it said it had halted the activities of the British Council, Britain’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, across the country.
“Due to the unregulated status of the British Council in Russia, its activity is halted,” the foreign ministry said.
“The measures are harsh but the British deserved them. And I don’t rule out that something else could follow,” first deputy head of the Russian Senate’s foreign affairs committee Vladimir Dzhabarov told Interfax news agency.